My View From The Country

Is It Too Late For Drought Planning?

“Fail to plan and plan to fail” goes the old saying. But how do you plan for a drought like this one?

Drought is inevitable; it is a natural part of the climate for nearly every region on earth. Good people can and do disagree on global warming and the causes, but everyone must recognize that we have forever been in an environment of climate change. While ideally one should begin to plan for drought before it occurs in order to ensure healthy resources coming into a drought and to increase one’s flexibility, how do you plan for a drought like this one?

It can be done. And if there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that it must be done. Congress will likely come up with some sort of disaster relief plan, but history tells us it will be wholly inadequate and 1½ years late in arriving.

For many, the key now is to emerge without severely damaging those resources. Droughts have a tendency to creep up on you and that is why having predetermined decision points is so critical ‒ in a drought, the earlier you act, the better off you are.

That’s because even a one-year drought may have implications for an operation for the next 10 years, if well managed. A longer-lasting drought increases the impact. Much of the native grazing land in the U.S. still has not recovered, or may never recover, to its condition before the drought of the 1930s.  

And long-duration droughts are not that rare. The drought of the 1930s lasted 8 years; in the 1950s the drought lasted 5 years; an 1860s’ drought went for 7 years; and in the 1810s, the drought lasted 6 years. A 1-2-year drought is usually manageable with a good plan, and the psychological effects are limited. A longer-duration drought will likely affect a ranching operation’s viability, not to mention the state of mind of a rancher. But with a plan, the opportunity for survival is greater. A great resource on the web is drought.unl.edu/ranchplan. In addition, you can visit BEEF’s drought management page here.

Why plan? Because a good plan helps protect personal health ‒ physical, relational, mental and spiritual.  It helps create financial health by helping producers remain low-cost producers, ensuring liquidity or cash flow, and keeping the operation sustainable and solvent by preventing it from becoming over-leveraged or destroying net worth.  

Perhaps most importantly, it helps maintain range conditions and carrying capacity, or at least provides for more rapid recovery in those areas. It is both a science and an art to manage rangelands effectively. Research shows an amazing difference in productivity in range conditions depending on plant health vigor, mixture of cool and warm-season grasses and the like. One rancher put a unique twist to the oft-heard statement that we are all just grass farmers. He called himself a used sunlight salesman or a used solar commodity broker.

Drought management puts a premium on acting early, being willing to adapt, and being creative. The best news is that it will rain again; it is nearly as inevitable as drought. Drought management is largely about employing appropriate risk management techniques.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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