National Drought Mitigation Center


Ranchers develop planning methodology to best respond to drought

February 28, 2013

Rangelands cover

This press release about an article in Rangelands magazine by NDMC researchers Cody Knutson and Tonya Haigh is from Allen Press.

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 at, 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


About Rangelands

Rangelands is a full-color publication of the Society for Range Management published six times per year. Each issue of Rangelands features scientific articles, book reviews, and society news. Additionally, readers may find youth, technology, and policy departments. The journal provides a forum for readers to get scientifically correct information in a user friendly, non-technical format. Rangelands is intended for a wide-range of individuals including educators, students, rangeland owners and managers, researchers, and policy leaders. The journal is available online at To learn more about the society, please visit

Media Contact:
Taylor Fulton
Allen Press, Inc.
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