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Drought Management: Creating the Right Drought Plan for Your Land

When it comes to drought management, preparedness is key. Whether you operate a ranch or manage a hunting property, having a good drought plan in place can make a huge difference, even in the most severe drought conditions. Let’s take a look at the importance of planning for drought and how to create the right plan for your land. 

Why Plan for a Drought?


All parts of the world experience periods of having less rain than usual from time to time. In fact, there are some regions of the United States today that are more dry than usual; other regions are experiencing a moderate drought. Farmers, ranchers, land managers, and others who depend on rain in order for their crops to survive should always have plans in place in the event that the rain stops. Here are some reasons why having a plan in place is essential: 

1. Droughts Are Expensive – One of the top reasons to ensure you have a sound drought plan in place is because, simply put, droughts are expensive! We tend to underestimate just how devastating a drought can be, but droughts cost the United States billions of dollars each year. Let’s take a look at 2017, a record year for weather and climate disasters. 

In 2017, the United States experienced a single drought event that impacted the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The drought lasted from spring until fall and caused $2.5 billion in damage. Having a plan in place ahead of time is efficient, effective, and could save money and lives. 

2. They Reduce Productivity – In the United States, farmers, and ranchers experience the most stress from drought. During a drought event, water wells run dry while crops fail and forage quality for livestock declines significantly, slowing down productivity.
3. They Drain Water Supplies – Not only does a drought cause water wells in rural areas to dry out, but it can also drain urban water supplies. As the populations in traditionally low water areas (such as in the western part of the United States) continue to grow, drought vulnerability increases and the demand for urban water use rises.
4. Droughts Are Inevitable – Droughts are a normal phenomenon that affects virtually any climate type on earth and, because they can occur gradually over a period of time, it can be difficult to take meaningful action if you wait until things get bad. This is why it is so important to have a plan in place ahead of time to minimize damage. 

Tips for Creating a Drought Plan for Your Land

sprinklerIn 1990, Dr. Donald A. Wilhite, founding director of the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), published an in-depth 10-step drought planning process that has helped states, tribes, and countries all over the world with developing a drought management plan. The NDMC has also published a comprehensive drought planning guide specifically for ranchers. 

Both guides focus on preparing for drought by improving the land’s overall health and ensuring flexibility in the event of a drought event, as well as having a plan in place for restoring the land after a drought. Here are a few things to consider when creating a drought plan for your land: 

Assess the Risk

One of the first steps in creating a drought plan is to understand the risks that a drought presents to your land in order to identify the best drought preparedness strategies. Take a good look at your land and consider the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats posed by a drought event.

Take Inventory

It’s impossible to create a successful drought management plan without first accounting for your land’s natural resources. Taking an inventory of your resources gives you a better idea of what you’re working with and allows you to make smart decisions based on the data you come up with. In addition to taking inventory of your livestock, crops, and forage, you should also record precipitation data, water, finances, and any human resources. 

Plant Crops that Require Less Water

dry cornWhen it is time to plant your crops, choose those that hold water and can withstand extended periods of time without any precipitation and rotate crops in a way that helps increase the amount of water that is absorbed by the soil. You should also take steps to drought-proof your food crops.

Use Land Conservation Practices

Keep an eye on your soil’s moisture. Use tillage left over after the previous harvest to increase the moisture in your soil and prevent evaporation, and find ways to prevent runoff so your soil isn’t missing out on important nutrients and water. You can do this by establishing and maintaining buffers near rivers, streams, and other sources of water. 

Know Your Herd

You should know your livestock’s forage needs in order to plan for their feed needs during the drought. Always make sure you have enough hay during dry times and develop an appropriate grazing system to keep your animals nourished during drought. It can also help to raise animals that do not consume large amounts of water. 

Managing Water Sources

Evaluate the various types of irrigation systems for your land and choose one that will prevent water loss through evaporation, percolation, and runoff. If choosing a new irrigation system isn’t possible, then find ways to make your existing system more efficient. You should also build a water storage system that holds water for use during crop irrigation season and install water measurement devices that keep track of your water use. 

Final Thoughts

These are just a few tips for creating a drought management plan for your property. You can find more information, drought preparedness tips, and drought plan guides by visiting the websites for the National Drought Mitigation Center and the National Integrated Drought Information System.

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