Drought is no stranger to Utah Farmers and the best preparation for it begins in water-abundant years. Six of many tools with potential to help prepare for and defend against drought are discussed below.
1. CROP VARIETY SELECTION
Consider alfalfa varieties with deeper rooting depths and lower fall dormancy ratings, small grain varieties bred for improved drought tolerance, and corn hybrids with shorter day length requirements and/or with bred or genetically modified drought tolerant traits.
2. CROP ROTATION DIVERSIFICATION
Consider economic alternative crops that work well with equipment and infrastructure, that have lower total irrigation requirements, and/or that better synchronize irrigation need with water availability.
3. IRRIGATION MANAGEMENT
Stretch limited water supplies during drought by concentrating on most productive land first, targeting most irrigation to critical crop growth periods, slightly under-irrigating all season to improve irrigation use efficiency, and refining irrigation rates and schedules to match soil intake rates and crop demands.
4. MANAGE FOR TIGHT MARGINS
Strengthen your financial position in strong years by building up working capital, paying down debt, and steady growth versus large expansions. Alleviate tight margins during drought by trimming expenses, purchasing inputs and feed in advance, reduce herd size, and concentrate on outputs that do well during drought.
5. EXPAND/IMPROVE IRRIGATION SYSTEMS
Maintaining irrigation systems by keeping water delivery systems clean, fixing broken parts, replacing worn parts, and turning end guns off will help reduce water use and improve water use efficiency. Upgrade irrigation systems when economically feasible.
6. MODIFY CROP MANAGEMENT
Conserve soil moisture by reducing or eliminating tillage, leaving as much residue on the surface as possible, building soil organic matter with manures or composts, eliminating water competition from weeds, and focusing on IPM for pests.
Now is a great time to start preparing for future droughts that are sure to come. Some effects of drought cannot be avoided, but utilizing combinations of the above six tools and others should help alleviate negative impacts of drought and improve crop profits. For more information on these tools, please visit USU Extension Guide to Drought Defense.
IFA has a great relationship with the USU Extension and value their expertise in Agriculture. Please contact your local IFA crop advisor for more information on these and many other topics that can help you be successful in growing your business.
Written by Matt Yost, USU Extension, and originally published in the IFA Cooperator magazine (vol. 86, no. 1) Spring 2020.
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