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NDMC releases new tools to help Midwestern specialty crop growers make decisions in times of drought

August 3, 2020

The National Drought Mitigation Center created a set of resources to help Midwestern specialty crop producers make decisions during drought years.

The July 16 U.S. Drought Monitor showed that all nine states included in the Midwest were experiencing abnormal dryness and/or drought. Growers of specialty crops such as wine grapes, fruit trees, cranberries, and vegetables face high risks due to climate extremes such as drought, but are sometimes ignored in drought management outreach. Now, Midwestern specialty crop producers have new resources to turn to help them make decisions during drought years, available on the National Drought Mitigation Center website.  

The NDMC has released a set of decision calendars that provide month-by-month and seasonal advice on how growers manage production of Midwestern apple, grape, cranberry and irrigated potato crops during drought years. Along with the calendars available on the NDMC site, there are also fact sheets that highlight appropriate drought and climate tools for growers to monitor during the growing seasons and beyond.  

“Specialty crop growers have been an underserved group from a drought monitoring perspective,” said rural sociologist and NDMC project manager Tonya Haigh. “Droughts negatively affect specialty crop production, but understanding of the needs of agriculture in the drought monitoring community has to date been largely limited to row crop commodities like corn and soybeans and rangeland livestock production. Since specialty crop production differs in many ways from growing commodity row crops, we wanted to create resources that help those growers in times of drought too.”  

To create the resources, the project team met with specialty crop growers in three Midwestern states (Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri) and conducted focus groups to learn what they considered to be the most important decisions they made, when they made them and how those decisions led to better vegetable and fruit production outcomes during drought. Discussing those issues and other related topics helped lead to the development of decision calendars and fact sheets.  

The decision calendars feature up to four categories — crop phenology, management decisions, drought concerns and outcome observed — of information per month. The June slice of the Midwest apple calendar, for instance, advises that the cell division stage of development has concluded (crop phrenology) and that it’s time to begin thinning the fruit and focusing on pest management (management decisions) because drought-stressed trees may be more susceptible to borers (drought concerns). 

The associated fact sheet on drought and climate tools for perennial fruit production provides growers with information on using tools such as the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), Evaporative Stress Index (ESI), and maps of soil moisture, soil temperature, and snowfall at appropriate times throughout the year to inform decision-making. The fact sheet also highlights new tools that can help growers of perennial crops imagine future growing conditions in their region and plan strategically using that information. 

The project was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sectoral Applications Research Program. The set of decision calendars and fact sheets can be found at: https://drought.unl.edu/Projects/Detail.aspx?id=41.

-Cory Matteson, NDMC Communications