Monday, September 01, 2014

Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch

Why Plan?

1. Drought is inevitable

Drought is a natural part of climate in nearly every region on Earth. It has occurred in the past and will do so again. Livestock and forage producers can reduce their vulnerability to drought.

Drought will always be a nemesis for the range livestock industry, especially for producers who become complacent during wet cycles. Producers need to capitalize on the good years and make timely adjustments when drought occurs. Management flexibility and pre-drought planning are critical for creating resilient operations.

2. Drought planning can help you make a profit

Drought and heat waves have cost this country more than $150 billion dollars from 1980 to 20061. Social and environmental impacts are also significant, although it is difficult to put a precise cost on these less direct effects. Nonetheless, the impacts of drought, like those of other natural hazards, can be reduced through mitigation and preparedness or “risk management”.

The fundamental objectives of drought management are to (1) minimize damage to rangeland and seeded pasture resources during and after drought and (2) reduce the risk of economic loss and social stress. Ranchers who achieve both of these objectives can quickly capitalize on additional forage in good years. Damage to vegetation and other natural resources is reduced and potential profit is increased when ranchers make timely decisions. Natural hazard studies have shown that, in general, every dollar spent up-front on hazard preparedness saves about $4 dollars down the road in reduced impacts.

3. Drought planning can make operations more self-reliant

Planning ahead to better prepare for and respond to drought gives producers the chance to proactively deal with drought, instead of relying so heavily on emergency measures and government assistance during times of drought.

Crisis decisions can be avoided with timely evaluation of alternatives and implementation of sound drought management plans. Success depends upon viewing drought as a normal part of the range livestock production environment, not as a catastrophic event.

4. Drought plans may be required

1 $151.5 billion dollars according to the National Climatic Data Center’s U.S. Billion Dollar Weather Disasters web site

I remember I was on a tour in ’02 and some grazing guru from Hawaii was on it. They asked him, ’What should we do about the drought?’ He said, ‘It’s too late to do anything about the drought now. When you’re in a drought, you plan about how you’re going to come out of a drought. When you’re in good weather you plan for the drought.’ I thought, ‘That’s pretty stupid.’

Then the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought he was right.

When you’re getting rain, that’s when you start building your root reserves, and when you’re trying to start resting your pastures to give you some place to go with your cattle.
- Nebraska Rancher, 2004


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