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Water

Looking forward Drought plans are a vital tool for producers

“If a drought plan lives in Dad’s head and that’s the only place it exists, it’s not a drought plan,” stated Dallas Mount, University of Wyoming Extension educator.

“We need to have this plan written down, communicated and agreed upon by all the parties who are involved with the ranch before an operation goes through a drought,” continued Mount. 

Mount spoke at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Drought Contingency Workshop webinar May 6 to help ranching operations develop a drought contingency plan for their grazing permits. 

Mount mentioned that the drought plan does not need to be a lengthy document written by a lawyer but something that everyone who is involved on an operation can agree upon. It should also be recorded on a piece of paper. 

Components

“One of the things that needs to be in a drought plan is a destocking strategy,” said Mount. “Producers need to determine which animals are going to be the first to leave, the next in line to leave and then the animals that are the last to leave.”

Mount noted that a destocking strategy needs to involve selling, or even relocating, some animals. 

“Rarely does it work to look at a drought plan that involves feeding animals as a profitable strategy,” warned Mount. “If producers start feeding animals, especially for anything longer than 30 days, in terms of a drought management strategy, it really turns negative in a hurry.”

Drought plans should also encompass target dates as to when critical decisions need to be made for an operation to implement a drought plan.

Mount advised producers to conduct research and determine the best timing and resources an operation has to determine precipitation and soil moisture levels, as well as carrying capacity and stocking rates. 

People

“Drought plans also need to deal with people,” commented Mount. “A ranch that has 500 cows and two employees might reduce to 150 cows and one employee in the time of a drought.”

He added, “We need to have those employment strategies outlined in a drought plan ahead of time so that people who are working on an operation – those who are relying on the operation for income sources – are aware that during a drought, they might have to find a job somewhere else.”

Emotional

“The most significant component of a drought plan as far as people are concerned is the emotional part,” noted Mount. “Drought is extremely emotionally draining to those folks who are operating the land.”

“Having to sell off animals that they have spent a lifetime building and matching the animals to their environment, seeing the stress on other people in their lives, feeling responsible to provide a cash flow to those folks who are involved can really get to a person” added Mount. 

Mount advised that producers need to get on the front end of drought and make a drought plan before a drought occurs. 

“When producers are in the middle of the throes of a drought, the emotional side of it can really cloud their decision making,” warned Mount. 

Financial 

Mount further stated financial aspects are another important issue to address in a drought plan. 

“Generally when producers are in a drought and are selling their livestock, they are not in a financial crisis during those drought years,” commented Mount, “due to the ranch’s cash income from selling the livestock.”

“The net worth of the operation has not really changed, though, because the producer has just traded their livestock for cash,” said Mount. “However, we need to have a financial plan to manage that cash, so if at some point in the future they choose to put that cash back into livestock, it will be there.” 

“Generally, it’s a year to two years after the drought that the financial hardship really happens as producers are trying to restock the ranch,” warned Mount.  

Range health

Mount mentioned range health as another point to address in a drought plan. 

Producers should be very cautious about not overgrazing their rangelands during the time of a drought. Effects of overgrazing during drought years can be catastrophic, and producers could deal with poor rangelands for the next decade as a result. 

“A really good objective might be to look at the long-term monitoring of the land and plant population, so we keep the most productive plants in good health through the drought,” stated Mount. 

Signatures

“The last thing to think about for a drought plan is signatures,” stated Mount. “Folks who need to sign the drought plan are the people who have a significant stake in the business, especially if they have an ownership interest or a managerial stake in the business.”

“The signature part is the major part of the drought plan,” he continued. “It says they have read and understood the drought plan and are willing to be pro-active in the operation’s drought planning.”

“People need to sign the drought plan to show this is the plan that needs to be implemented if conditions get bad enough when a drought starts to occur,” said Mount. “They also need to seriously consider enacting the plan when an operation is lacking in precipitation and forage around those target dates.”

Madeline Robinson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..