Farmers and ranchers with good drought plans and conservation systems can better manage the effects of the drought plaguing the country, according to the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

NRCS hydrologists are predicting prolonged drought in the West, while other states may face dry conditions.

“Without a plan in place, you’re left crossing your fingers for rain,” says Norm Widman, NRCS national agronomist. “Farmers and ranchers may suffer some loss, but their loss is greatly minimized (with a plan).”

First off, prepare for drought by minimizing tillage or avoiding it altogether if possible, suggest Widman and colleagues. If using cover crops, kill them off just a few weeks before planting, they recommend.

For crops that take supplemental nitrogen, scale back nitrogen to match the expected yield. If rain isn’t in the forecast, inject fertilizer so it makes use of what soil moisture is available.

“Drought planning shouldn’t start in crisis,” says Dana Larsen, a natural resources specialist at the NRCS. “It should start with a plan and long-term grazing management.”

Drought plans should be based on individual conditions and how forage and resources have responded to drought in the past, according to the NRCS. Ranchers should also not to let their herds overgraze and utilize alternative feeds and forages.

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