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Agricultural News

Having a Drought Plan Can Help Mitigate the Effects of Extreme Weather

Fri, 19 Jun 2020 16:00:43 CDT

Having a Drought Plan Can Help Mitigate the Effects of Extreme Weather The latest Southern Plains Perspective blog shows why having a drought plan in place is important.

Its summertime and the livin’ ain’t so easy if you live in an area experiencing a flash drought. Right now, in the Southern Plains, that includes parts of Southwest Kansas, the Western portions of the Oklahoma Panhandle, the Northwest parts of the Texas Panhandle and a stretch of territory covering parts of Central and Western Oklahoma. If the U.S. monthly drought outlook is right, there is a good chance that by July 1 this dry area could expand to cover most of Western Kansas, Central and Western Oklahoma (including the Panhandle), all of the Texas Panhandle and large chunks of West Texas. This could have a big impact on agriculture, and while we can’t control the weather, we can be ready for it. We all need a drought plan.

Without a drought plan in place, a producer is often left crossing their fingers and hoping for rain. A plan won’t fix everything, you will still feel the effects of a drought, but you can minimize your losses if you have a strategy to follow.

Obviously, the best time to prepare for extreme weather, be it drought, flood, hot, or cold, is before it happens. Ag producers need to plan ahead and do what they can to buffer or mitigate the effects of extreme weather. Even if you are getting a late start, however, you still can help better prepare your operation for what may lie ahead.

Here are a few drought tips from NRCS:

1. Minimize tillage as much as possible – no tillage is best
2. Keep soil covered
3. Consider killing cover crops off a couple weeks before planting
4. For crops that take supplemental nitrogen – scale back nitrogen to expected yield
5. If rain isn’t expected, inject fertilizer so it comes into contact with more soil moisture

1. Have a drought plan in place and follow it
2. Don’t overgraze
3. Find alternative feeds and forages
4. Improve water resources
5. Cull herds

What can we do now that we are already in a drought?

If you are running livestock, take a close look at your current stocking rates. With a 50 percent decrease in rainfall or precipitation, stocking rates may need to be reduced by as much as 40 percent. At a 30 percent reduction in rainfall, stocking rates may need to be reduced by 20 percent. First though, you have to ask if you are currently stocking your grazing lands at a rate which provides long term sustainability. If you’re currently over using the forage being produced annually, it could require deeper cuts in heard numbers or extended periods of rest from grazing.

Early weaning

Another option that is available to cow/calf producers is early weaning of calves. Take into consideration that cattle will typically average the consumption of 3 percent of their body weight each day. If you have 500-pound calves still grazing alongside their mothers, you can quickly reduce the pressure on the grazing resource by approximately a third by weaning the calves. Many cow/calf producers are becoming more interested in moving their calving season later into the spring months, helping cut expenses by not having to feed a cow as much hay through the high-demand last trimester leading up to birthing the calf and then after the calf is born. Simply not having to put up as much hay not only cuts expenses, it also may provide for more acres to spread out the grazing pressure from year to year. In addition to this, producers may also choose to limit the exposure time to hay for cattle they are feeding. The cost and resource savings within this practice are based upon the amount of waste being generated by cows loafing around the hay supply and consuming more forage than needed.

Conserving Rangeland

Ranching with limited water supply is difficult. For some ranchers, managing 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.

Save the Soil

Crop 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.

Minimize droughts effects on 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 IF you have enough moisture. Consider more drought tolerant cover crops.

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 impact of drought on irrigated acres

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.

Some of the advice above is just common sense. Some of the advice above may seem like out of the box thinking to some of you. The bottom line, however, is that we need to take action to be better prepared for extreme weather. Take a look at your operation and see what you need to do to better weather the storm (or in this case, the drought).

(source Southern Plains Perspective Blog)



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