Be prepared: Drought monitoring and planning for your small farm

If you are a farmer on the mid- or north- coast of Oregon, it has undoubtedly not escaped your notice that this winter and spring have been exceptionally wet in 2022. According to drought.gov, we had the sixth, ninth, and fifteenth wettest Aprils on record for Tillamook, Lincoln, and Clatsop counties respectively. Data from the PRISM Climate Group indicates the mid-and north coast region has received between 70-110% of normal average precipitation in the last three months. Although current projections do not forecast major drought for our area for summer 2022, experiences of early water shut-offs, heat domes, and wildfires in recent years keep drought concerns front of mind for many farmers on the mid- and north coast.

Monitoring current drought conditions and forecasts and having a strong drought management plan are two important tools available to farmers for increasing farm and agribusiness resilience against drought this season and in the future.

Drought monitoring

Those who have been farming for even a couple of years need no reminder that conditions can change quickly. Drought conditions can create challenging conditions for small farms and ranches. Staying aware of current local and regional conditions and having an idea of what is ahead in the upcoming months can help you make informed decisions about how best to manage your farm in changing weather conditions. Several tools for monitoring drought and wildfire projections are described in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Drought monitoring tools.

Tool Temporal Scale Geographic Scale Conditions Tracked Notes

NOAA Climate Prediction Center Weather Forecasts

Monthly outlook

Seasonal outlook

Future projections

National

Temperature

Precipitation

NRCS Water and Climate Reports

Current conditions

Seasonal outlook

Semi-Local

State

National

Temperature

Snow

Precipitation

Soil Moisture

Other Climatic & Water Supply Indicators

Information on this site can be a little technical. We recommend that you start with the Weekly Water and Climate Update reports from the link in this table.

NWCC 7-Day Significant Fire Potential Reports

7-Day outlook

Regional

Fire Potential

USDA Weather and Drought Monitor

Current Conditions

Seasonal Outlook

State

National

International

Temperature

Precipitation

Crop Moisture

Soil Moisture

Correlates areas of drought with production areas for different agricultural products

Provides national crop condition data

US Drought Monitor

Historic information

Current conditions

Short-term indicators/projections

Long-term indicators/projections

Local

State

National

Temperature

Precipitation

Streamflow

Correlates areas of drought with production areas for different agricultural products

Email alerts available

Staying up to date on current conditions and future projections from one or more of these sites can help you stay on top of changing conditions and make informed decisions about managing your farm in drought conditions.

Planning ahead

Of course, monitoring drought conditions alone is not enough to create a drought-resilient farm or ranch. Having a drought action plan in place is a key piece of the drought management puzzle. A drought action plan is a roadmap for making decisions about your agribusiness under drought pressure.

When developing your drought action plan, you’ll identify key points that will serve as triggers for you to implement a particular drought management strategy. Triggers are usually based on rainfall during a period of time relative to previous years, so using monitoring tools like drought.gov that provide information about current conditions as compared to historical conditions can be especially helpful for making management decisions.

Management strategies will vary depending on your farm type, and can include options such as increasing irrigation to a portion of your farm (when possible), or in extreme cases, culling a portion of your herd to ensure the longevity of your operation. Taking time to create a drought action plan before conditions reach an emergency level will make it much easier to take action when necessary because you will have already researched and considered the best steps for maintaining the health of your agribusiness. Your drought action plan will be specific to your farm, and will be based on factors such as your farm goals, economics, and risk tolerance.

Below are several resources that can help you in the development of your drought action plan:

  • Drought Action Plan Resources (website from Colorado State University Extension): This website provides information about drought planning and sample plans that can be used as a model when developing your own drought action plan.
  • Write a [Drought Action] Plan (National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska): Part of a larger set of drought mitigation resources, this page provides clear steps and resources for drought plan development, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Your local OSU Extension Small Farm Coordinators or Agricultural Advisors: Don’t hesitate to reach out to your local extension office if you would like support developing your drought action plan.

The changing weather patterns we are all experiencing make it clear that drought will continue to be a management factor for farmers and ranchers in the mid- and north Oregon coast and throughout the state. Using monitoring tools to stay on top of changing conditions and having a plan for what to do when drought is on the horizon are two key ways to increase the resilience of your farm in these challenging and changing conditions.

Previously titled
Be Prepared: Drought Monitoring and Planning for Your Small Farm

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