The current drought monitor has much of the southern part of Kansas in severe or extreme drought, with exceptional drought along the western Oklahoma border. It is hard to know how this will change in the coming months but preparation and planning can help us adapt and minimize the impact if dry conditions continue.
Keith Harmoney, range scientist at Hays has studied a 36-year data set to look at the impacts of precipitation on season long forage production of shortgrass rangeland (http://www.ksre.k-state.edu/historicpublications/pubs/SRP1086.pdf). The strongest relationship between precipitation and year-end forage yield was the rainfall from October the prior year through September. However, the October prior year through April precipitation had little to no relationship to the end of year forage yield. Notably in that data set, precipitation from May to June had nearly as good of a relationship with forage yield as the October prior year to September time period.
Therefore, as that May to June period of precipitation plays out, it can be used to help adjust this year’s grazing plans. A good drought management plan will include critical dates for de-stocking based on rainfall received and what is observed in range production and utilization. A written plan with dates and numbers developed ahead of time can greatly reduce the stress many experience during drought.
History tells us that Western Kansas experiences a drought 1 out of every 5 years. Establishing a practice of moderate stocking rates helps maintain greater plant vigor and soil cover regardless of the amount of precipitation. It is also optimizes returns per acre. Without adequate soil cover, precipitation that does come is largely runoff and not captured in the soil.
Our schools have fire drills to prepare for possible problems. Preparing a drought management plan is like a fire drill so we are prepared if it should happen. If you don’t already have a drought management plan, now is the time to get started. Producers can find many helpful resources for managing drought risk on the ranch at http://drought.unl.edu/ranchplan/Overview.aspxincluding example drought management plans.