Rancher readiness will be critical if the drought continues this summer.
Like a general mapping out his strategy before going into battle, a rancher must be prepared to respond effectively to drought, one of the biggest threats to Great Plains ranchers. With the input of ranchers and advisers, a drought-planning methodology has been created to encourage more ranchers to develop advance plans.
Drought-planning concepts are examined in the current issue of the journal Rangelands. Noting that “a strategic objective of every ranch should be to strive for drought resilience,” the National Drought Mitigation Center interviewed and brought together ranchers and advisers to develop this planning methodology.
The many aspects of a drought plan include how a ranch operation will maintain natural resources, production, financial health, customer relations, and lifestyle. However, drought planning is essentially part of a larger vision for a ranch. This vision might include the importance of native grass, livestock, wildlife, and people in its overall goals.
In planning for a future drought, it is necessary to conduct an inventory of resources, understand the risks and even the benefits of drought, and know how to monitor and measure drought. Critical dates for decision-making should be identified in advance. It is also important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and multiple management strategies may be useful.
Strategies for before, during, and after drought should be in place. Some ranchers described using grazing management systems to foster desirable plant species as a way to improve pasture health beforehand. When drought occurs, these ranchers know their pastures will be in the best condition to tolerate it. Others mentioned ensuring there was a “cushion” in their forage supply.
During a drought, ranchers need guidelines for when to make decisions about stocking rates, alternate forage, and changes to burn schedules. After a drought, strategies for recovery are needed that take into consideration the severity of the drought, market trends, and financial issues. These factors affect decisions such as when and how much to restock. Advisers recommend cost analysis exercises to help ranchers determine the short- and long-term tradeoffs.
The insights and information gleaned from this experience went into creating the website “Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch.” It offers practical planning tools and information about drought, its impacts, and management options. The site, available here, is maintained by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Full text of “A Drought-Planning Methodology for Ranchers in the Great Plains,” Rangelands, Vol. 35, No. 1, February 2013, is available here.