Have you heard the old saying, “It’s not a matter of if, but when?” Drought falls squarely into the “when” category. Regardless of your zip code, you can expect to encounter abnormally dry or even severe drought conditions at some point in the future. Having a drought plan in place can help minimize effects of deficient rainfall for crops on your wildlife property.
Check Long-Range Forecast
Even if you live in a traditionally soggy state, you can expect weather patterns that buck averages. While inaccurate weather forecasts can make you grumble, prediction capabilities have advanced greatly in recent years. From hourly to seven-day forecasts, you can expect a high probability of what’s ahead.
For extended forecasts, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center provides eight-to-14-day forecasts, and monthly and seasonal outlooks. These are referred to as probability forecasts with the associated terminology: below normal, near normal and above normal. The center also dedicates a page specifically to drought information in the U.S., broken into weekly, monthly and seasonal outlooks.
This information doesn’t guarantee a drought will happen, but it does tell whether conditions are ramping up to initiate dryer than normal circumstances. Peeking into the future is a good first step in planning for rainless periods.
Your local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service can help you select crops when faced with dry forecasts. Agronomy conditions vary across the country. A property just 2 miles from yours may require a different farming approach due to fluctuating soil pH levels, soil drainage character, fertilizer needs, weed management and other factors sometimes unseen by weekend agronomists. Some crops are tolerant of missed rains, such as nutritious sugar beets or turnips. Best to plant them in spring or early summer. Plant winter wheat, a hardy alternative with a protein output of 15% to 25%, in September in many locations to sprout as a fall, winter and spring nutritional boost.
Other crops to consider for late summer planting include buckwheat, with 10% to 20% crude protein benefit. Grain sorghum, such as bird-resistant milo, is an annual many landowners living in arid climates rely on yearly due to its deep-reaching roots. Its protein value averages 9% to 13% depending on the variety. Plus, some species tower over other crops and provide supplementary habitat cover as well as nutrition. Your local NRCS professional will know what crop is best for your location.
Additionally, NRCS experts can also recommend farming practices to help with dry or drought conditions. Some cultivation considerations may include a no-till approach to provide a moisture protection layer of dead vegetation. Deep tillage in the fall combined with leaving a field fallow traps winter moisture for spring crops. Even simple spacing of seeds and crop rows aids in stretching the benefit of available moisture.
If dry conditions destroy your crops, you may have to consider other means of nutrition to get wildlife through a rough patch. First, survey your property. It may already have natural browse that supplements your failed farming. Deer are natural browsers, and forestry practices, such as hinge cutting, can offer short-term solutions.
You may even want to establish additional mineral and protein sites to boost deer in bad times.
Supplemental feeding can also be an option if legal in your state. Check regulations. Commercial deer feeds, such as Purina’s AntlerMax, have balanced nutrition, but can be cost prohibitive over the long term. Commodities, like corn or hay, have a bit less sticker shock over store-bought feed. Introduce any dietary supplements in small amounts. Turkeys can easily transition to grains, but deer have a specialized ruminant digestive system that requires a week or more to adapt to most new menu items.
A blend of emergency food plots, forestry work and supplements could be the answer to your temporarily dry surroundings. Check the forecast and then make a plan for when the rain stops.