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Drought Assistance

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Low streamflows can impact the way you operate your farm or ranch. This information provides general considerations and recommendations to help you keep your operation sustainable during drought. For specific questions about how NRCS can help your farm or ranch, contact your local USDA Service Center.

Below are some general tips that could lessen the impact of drought conditions on your farm. Practices identified may not be available for financial assistance under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). To see what’s available in your county, contact your local NRCS office.

What impacts can drought have on your operation?

  • Soil erosion
  • Loss of plant cover
  • Degraded soil quality
  • Water Quantity - Limited irrigation supply and reduction in water use
  • Wind erosion
  • Degraded Air Quality - increased dust due to wind and soil erosion
  • Increased fire risk
  • Increased plant stress
  • Reduction in animal food/cover/ shelter
  • Increased animal stress
  • Reduced stream levels for aquatic habitat

Save the Soil

Farmers without access to adequate water to produce a crop may find themselves thrust from a water crisis to a dust crisis. Options for protecting fields vulnerable to erosion include cover crops, surface roughening, residue management, converting to crops that use less water, mulching, or other practices.

Conserving Rangeland

Ranching with limited water supply is difficult. For some ranchers, managing the livestock to take advantage of available grass while protecting areas from overuse may be easier with tools such as livestock watering systems, piping, troughs, and fencing. NRCS works with ranchers to develop grazing management plans to make the best use of what forage remains on the ranch.

Stretching Every Drop

Farmers who have access to water and want to make every drop count should develop irrigation water management plans with their NRCS conservationists or other consultants. Assistance is available to improve irrigation systems to help farmers working to produce a crop with a smaller allocation of water.

Minimize the effects of drought on your fallowed land.

The most commonly prescribed practices for protecting vulnerable farmland fallowed by drought are:

  • Tillage & Residue Management - Leaving residues from the previous crop undisturbed on the soil surface can help reduce wind and water erosion.
  • Cover Crops - Planting or maintaining vegetation, living or dead, will provide cover on the soil surface and reduce erosion. Low-water using plants like barley are typically used as cover crops during droughts.
  • Surface Roughening & Cross Wind Ridges - By disking heavier soils into a rough, cloddy surface, the soil can be protected from wind erosion.
  • Mulching - Covering bare soil with wood chips, straw or other plants material can help to hold the soil in place.
  • Conservation Crop Rotation - Switching to crops that require less water can allow a field to remain productive and provide erosion protection.

Minimize the effects of drought on your irrigated cropland.

The most commonly prescribed practices for protecting irrigated cropland from drought are:

  • Irrigation System Improvement - Evaluating irrigation systems, improving management of existing systems, replacing poorly performing components or converting to pressurized irrigation systems will improve the uniformity of water application. It takes less water to irrigate when the irrigation is uniform.
  • Irrigation Scheduling - Irrigating at the optimum time and applying the amount the soil can hold minimizes undesirable water loss below the root zone of the crop. Good scheduling or “Irrigation Water Management” will help stretch limited water supplies.
  • Vegetative Practices & Mulching - Growing certain crops, either interplanted in or in sequence with production crops can increase infiltration and retention of valuable rainfall and reduce evaporation loss from the soil surface. Mulching by covering the soil surface with wood chips, straw or other plant materials can also reduce water loss to evaporation.
  • Residue & Tillage Management - Modifying tillage to retain residues from a previous crop left on the soil surface can help reduce water loss to evaporation.

Minimize the effects of drought on your rangeland or pastureland.

Protecting rangeland/pastureland during a drought means balancing the needs of livestock with the capacity of natural resources that have been made more fragile by lack of water. Following are some of the conservation practices recommended by NRCS:

  • Irrigation System Improvement - Evaluating irrigation systems, improving management of existing systems, replacing poorly performing components or converting to pressurized irrigation systems will improve the uniformity of water application. It takes less water to irrigate when the irrigation is uniform.
  • Irrigation Scheduling - Irrigating at the optimum time and applying the amount the soil can hold minimizes undesirable water loss below the root zone of the crop. Good scheduling or “Irrigation Water Management” will help stretch limited water supplies.
  • Grazing Management Plans - Developing a drought management plan helps protect the longterm condition of the ranch by balancing the needs of the livestock with the capacity of the soil and plants.
  • Cross Fencing - Controlling where and how long livestock are permitted to graze, allows ranchers to protect their soil and plants and make use of their remaining forage.
  • Livestock Water Systems - Providing water across the ranch with sources such as livestock wells and springs makes it possible to distribute livestock according to the capacity of the soils and plants. Producers should evaluate and improve livestock water systems to increase efficiencies of system delivery.

Monitor current drought conditions and streamflow forecasts online.

The following websites provide up-to-date water supply information and drought maps where farmers and ranchers can find specific forecasts for their part of the state.

Additional Drought Resources

Contact Information

Find your local Service Center.