Tonya Haigh works with ranchers and rangeland managers to better understand how they cope with the prolonged stress of drought in an already challenging line of work. Haigh, a rural sociologist, has been with the National Drought Mitigation Center since 2009.
Recently, she discussed what she has learned about how planning has helped ranchers better prepare for drought, on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Center for Grassland Studies Podcast.
“Ranching is such a stressful career anyway,” Haigh told UNL Range Management Specialist Mitchell Stephenson during the podcast. “Adding the uncertainties around drought and the length of time that you are dealing with drought -- not really knowing the amount of time that it is going to last -- can add a lot of angst to the manager’s mental health, the overall family health. I started to think about the actual decision-making process that we go through when we are presented with some kind of risk.”
Whether it’s managing a drought or escaping from a house fire, that decision-making process is a stressful one with major consequences, Haigh said.
“With drought, it’s lasting over the course of seasons instead of minutes,” she said.
And over that prolonged time, she said, ranchers face uncertainties about not only how the drought is developing, but how markets will react, if insurance or government aid will offset losses and how their finances will ultimately be affected.
“What we learned is how ranchers use a drought plan to make the process work better for them,” Haigh said.
Addressing those uncertainties in advance with drought plans that led them to, for example, cull cows in dry years and stockpile hay in advance of bad years helped ranchers feel less boxed-in and hopeless in times of drought, Haigh said.
You can listen to Haigh’s full 15-minute interview here or by searching your favorite podcast hosting services for the Center of Grassland Studies Podcast.
To learn more about how drought planning benefitted ranchers Haigh interviewed, visit the recently updated collection of drought planning ranch case studies on the NDMC website.
On Nov. 23 at 3:30 p.m. CST, Haigh will also present on the subject for the online Center of Grassland Studies Fall Seminar Series. To find out more about that, visit the Fall Seminar Series website.