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Drought Management Plan - Minimising Effects

18 June 2012

Drought cannot be avoided, but, the effects can be minimised, writes Lance Smith, Southwest Minnesota Regional Grazing Specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Droughts are Cyclical and can come in any, or a combination of any, of the following forms: Seasonal, Non Seasonal, Short Term, Long Term, Mild and Severe. A Drought Management Plan should be a part of every agricultural operations Comprehensive Conservation Plan.

Development of a Comprehensive Conservation Plan is the first step in the development of a Drought Management Plan. A Comprehensive Conservation Plan should include Short Term and Long Term Goals for: Personal, Family, Business, Social, Financial, Cultural, Production and Natural Resources.

The Goal in the Development of a Drought Management Plan is to protect your Natural Resource from Degradation by Overgrazing. The Plan must be developed Pre Drought. Trying to develop a plan while dealing with the stress of a drought will not result in good planning decisions. The Plan must be Site Specific. A plan developed for the spring turnout pasture by the farmstead will not be applicable for the summer grazing system that is two miles to the north west. The Plan must be Proactive. Specific actions will be taken when specific criteria have been reached. The Plan Must have a Measurable Trigger Mechanism. The minimum residual forage stubble height in a paddock is the same when the livestock return as when they left.

Drought Management Options are as diverse as individual agricultural operations are. The following is a partial listing of management options that can be utilized in the Development of your Site Specific Drought Management Plan.

  • Maintain 20 per cent Flexibility in Livestock numbers. For Sites that experience Frequent Drought maintain Stocking Rate at 80 per cent and be able to Increase 20 per cent during Above Normal Precipitation. For Sites that experience Occasional Drought maintain Stocking rate at 100 per cent and be ready to Decrease 20 per cent during Below Normal Precipitation.
  • During times of Mild Short Term Drought the Livestock Rotation may be Slowed Down, or Speeded Up, until Normal Precipitation returns.
  • When Severe or Long Term Drought conditions start to develop, Early Weaning, Destocking or Relocation of Livestock may be necessary. When utilizing these options consideration needs to be given to Class and Age of Culled Livestock, Individual Production Records, Body Condition, Income Tax Effects and Restocking Options.
  • As Precipitation returns to Normal, Restocking Options might include Leasing Pasture Out or Taking Livestock In along with Purchasing Livestock.
  • Stored Forages can also be utilised for Drought Management. Decisions as to Type, Storage Technique, Rotation and Spoilage need to be made for your specific operation.
  • Alternative Forages utilised for Drought Management may include Annual Grain Crops, Annual Forage Crops, Perennial Forage Crops and Purchased Feeds. When utilizing Annual Crops that were grown in Drought Conditions certain Toxicities can be a concern.
  • Reliable Quantity and Quality of Water during Drought Conditions should be monitored closely. Surface Waters for Livestock, such as, Dams, Dugouts, Rivers and Streams can reach inadequate Quantity levels and Quality levels that are Toxic. Subsurface Water supplies like Wells, Rural Water, Spring Developments, Pipelines and Tanks are more reliable but will still require additional monitoring.

Early Prediction and Detection of Drought is the first step in Implementing a Drought Plan.

Prediction and Detection will be more accurate and timely by utilizing Regional and Area Precipitation Records and more importantly your Site Specific Records. These Site Specific Records should include Precipitation by Date, Amount, Interval, Duration and Type. Average Daily Temperature along with the High and Low should also be recorded.

Your Drought Management Plan when completed will Answer the Questions Who, What, When, Where and How to Best Manage Through a Drought on your Specific Site.

June 2012

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