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Dealing with Drought in the Caribbean Area

Dry livestock watering pond, for goats, pond in Catherines Rest, St. Croix.For the last 7 years, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have experienced uncommonly dry weather. The resulting water deficit has impacted cash crops, including plantains, root crops, bananas, and coffee in the uplands, and livestock across the islands. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor status report for Dec. 2021:

"Drought conditions continue to worsen across most of Puerto Rico and all of the U.S. Virgin Islands without significant relief expected until the start of the wet season in April. Currently, Puerto Rico is experiencing abnormally dry (D0) to moderate drought (D1) conditions. Drought conditions vary in the U.S. Virgin Islands with moderate drought (D1) in St. John, severe drought (D2) in St. Thomas, and extreme drought (D3) conditions on St. Croix.

"2021 can overall be described as a dry and hot year across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands."

The U.S. Weather Service in San Juan Summarized 2021 as the 9th warmest year on record throughout the U.S. Caribbean, and the driest year on record in St. Croix. See summary info graphics below.

2021 Weather Summary for official San Juan, St. Croix & St. Thomas sites. 9th warmest year on record throughout islands. Driest year on record in St. Croix. Record maximum temperatures in San Juan (11) & St. Croix (18).

Although little can be done to control rainfall and storm events, technical experts at NRCS can help producers in Puerto Rico and the USVI apply science-based conservation solutions to build resilience in their operations and mitigate against the impacts of drought.

Caribbean Area NRCS has added several conservation practices to address drought and climate resilience, including Water Harvesting Catchments and Underground Outlets to help producers better manage water deficiencies in arid areas and expand livestock watering. Below are examples of conservation practices NRCS can help farmers install to deal with the impacts of drought.

CroplandFarmers use Crotalaria juncea (Sunn hemp) as a cover crop.

The goals of rain-fed cropping systems are to:

  • increase the amount of water that is absorbed into the soil (infiltration),
  • minimize the loss of moisture through evaporation,
  • improve soil water availability, and
  • increase water use efficiency through improved soil management.

Conservation practices such as cover crops and crop residue management help the soil absorb raindrop energy and slow runoff, allowing more time for water infiltration. Riparian forest buffers trap sediment, organic matter, nutrients and pesticides in surface runoff from agricultural lands bared by drought, and reduce excess nutrients and other chemicals in shallow ground water flow.

NRCS can help farmers conduct comprehensive irrigation water management assessments to identify water application efficiency concerns by comparing crop water uptake to the existing irrigation system. Assessments help produce more efficient irrigation system designs using NRCS standards and specifications to increase efficient use of available water. Benefits for farmers include higher yields, as well as reduced water demands, environmental impacts and costs. Water management practices provide farmers and ranchers with tools to improve water resource management, monitoring and crop and pasture quality. Better management means better efficiency, more water availability, and lower costs.

Pastureland

Well-managed, healthy pastures that apply rotational grazing increase soil cover to improve water use efficiency and help to maintain pastures during drought conditions. Grazing land mechanical treatment reduces water runoff and increases infiltration. Silvopasture can provide long-term erosion control, improve water quality and reduce heat stress. Exclusion fences keep grazing animals out of water bodies to help protect sensitive stream banks and shorelines weakened by drought, and maintain or improve water quality.

Dairy cows gather around a water trough in a Puerto Rico pasture.Livestock

Providing enough water is essential for livestock production. Insufficient high-quality water will quickly reduce animal performance, so producers are challenged to provide livestock with plenty of good, clean water and shade during times of drought. This is why many producers are now opting to install and manage more efficient livestock watering equipment. Water availability is critical, especially when adopting year-round grazing. Water can be supplied by ponds, wells, springs, and water conveyance systems. Water can also be harvested from farm buildings’ roof runoff and stored in tanks or cisterns.

FEEDING LIVESTOCK IN DRY WEATHER

Dry weather can be stressful on livestock. Pastures and brush dry out, are less nutritious and have little or no protein. Animals need more water to digest dry grass.

These conditions can lead to weaker animals that do not grow, cannot provide milk for their young, and are more susceptible to disease and worms.

In the dry season, it is important and necessary to provide additional nutritious feed for animals, especially protein. The dry season comes every year so prepare and plan ahead.

How will you provide the proper feed for your herd?

  • Cut and carry young, green grass and bush and provide quality hay.
  • Provide a complete grain with 16% protein (not just corn).
  • Provide molasses for additional calories.
  • Deworm your animals and spray for ticks as recommended.
  • And, of course, make sure there is plenty of water available.

Information provided by the V.I. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services Division, 340-778-0998.

NRCS can help producers design and install more efficient livestock watering systems. Spring development collects water from springs or seeps to provide improved quantity and/or quality of water for livestock, wildlife or other agricultural uses. Watering system designs provide better distribution of livestock watering facilities to boost pasture and rangeland use.

NRCS Assistance

NRCS offers technical and financial assistance to Caribbean Area producers to conserve water, improve soil and water quality, and adapt to climate change through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or as part of special Farm Bill initiatives.

More Information

Contact your local USDA Service Center.