How to Prepare for Drought
Some localities are more susceptible to drought than others. The risk of drought in any area needs to be recognised, and farming practices determined accordingly.
The effect of a drought is not only a reduction in farm capability, but as a result of this, an increased strain on financial resources, increased susceptibility to land degradation, etc.
Continuous monitoring and review can greatly help foresee the onset of a drought earlier than it might otherwise be detected. However, the signs are generally subtle and can easily be undetected until the farm is actually in drought.
Things to do before a drought (all the time):
- Regularly monitor water supply (quantity and quality).
- Monitor weather forecasts and trends (both short and long term).
- Monitor feed supplies and costs in the market place.
- Maintain a backup store of feed.
- Consider likely future growth and value of a pasture when determining the degree to which that pasture will be grazed (e.g. when feed values are low, a pasture can be grazed more heavily, but when feed values are rising, the pasture should be grazed less).
- Manage the total farm to maintain quality with tree plantings, water sources, etc. (This reduces erosion impact of drought and helps recovery).
- Retain enterprise diversity and flexibility so that the mix can be changed with relative ease to something more appropriate during drought.
- Diversify sources of income (both on and off farm) so you have an income during drought (e.g. off farm investments, value adding, ecotourism).
Things to do during a drought:
- Progressively reduce grazing/cropping pressure (e.g. provide supplementary feed for stock, and restrict access of stock to susceptible pastures; reduce number of crops grown - instead of two crops a year on a paddock, only grow one).
- If drought extends over long period, some farming enterprises may need to be curtailed or changed.
- Reduce stock (e.g. sell stock at market, send to agistment elsewhere).
- Maintain breeding stock (may need to send away for agistment; may need to provide supplementary feeding etc.).
- Retain stubble/crop residue on all areas for erosion control.
- Watch finances more closely and do not live on hope - act while you still have something in reserve, even if it means stopping farm production and seeking off-farm employment temporarily.
- Talk to banks/ financial advisers before implementing any major changes.
After the drought:
The transition from drought back to normal conditions must be managed carefully. It can be full of risks. Drought-breaking weather can be dramatic, and as such can have serious negative impacts upon animals, plants and soils.
- If the soil surface is dry and bare it can be easily eroded by rain.
- If animals are weaker than normal, a cold snap or wet weather may result in disease or infection.
- Dramatic changes in feed can cause digestive upsets in stock (they can over eat; they may take in unmanageable quantities of plant toxins).
- There must be a transition from poor quality drought-affected pasture to lush new pasture following rains (perhaps limit stock to new pasture for short periods of an hour or two daily -increasing gradually).
- Pests, diseases or weeds may develop rapidly when the drought breaks.
- The drought may have left livestock unhealthy and deficient in nutrients requiring special attention to recondition them.
- Soils may be degraded (e.g. nutrient or organic content deficient) and require treatment before planting a new crop.
- Certain pasture species may have disappeared, so reconstituting a desirable pasture mix may be needed (often legumes do not survive as well as grasses, so they may need to be replanted).
- There is a temptation to spend money (even through borrowing) to rebuild the farm quickly. This is not necessarily the best way. Compare the cost and benefits involved in a ‘quick fix' (e.g. buying livestock) compared with a 'slow fix' (e.g. breeding up livestock numbers).
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