Agriculture Drought Risk Management Plan for Alberta

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Introducing the ADRMP | Definition of drought | Vision | Goals and outcomes | Drought management actions | Drought level or moisture condition
Introduction to the ADRMP

Although drought can begin slowly and subtly, experience has proven it can have as significant an impact as other, more dramatic disasters. In the past, crisis management led to reactive measures and emergency responses that were costly and often provided only short-term solutions. In contrast, the Agriculture Drought Risk Management Plan (ADRMP) focuses on planning and preparedness measures; a risk management approach. Risk management not only reduces the impact of drought on producers in the short and long term, it is also more fiscally responsible and a better fit under global trade rules that can penalize agriculture programs. Many of the strategies and actions presented to reduce the effects of drought may also be used to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events.

The ADRMP continues to provide a framework for a coordinated, pro-active approach to reduce the short- and long-term effects of drought and of climate change on Alberta farmers and ranchers. It will guide government agencies in assisting producers to more effectively reduce the impacts of drought before, during and after a drought event, and will help agricultural producers to be more prepared and less vulnerable to drought.

Farmers and ranchers manage operations in an increasingly uncertain world. ADRMP reports, maps and interactive web tools help farmers make informed business decisions. Risk management strategies described in this document are available not only for farmers and producers, but also for government. The idea behind this approach to drought and weather extremes is to expect the events and plan around them, rather than regard them as crises requiring ad hoc measures. There is an art and science behind the decisions producers and government make for each short- and long-term situation.

Agriculture is usually the first industry to show the effects of drought through low crop yields and dugout levels. Droughts that persist over two or three years begin to deplete groundwater supplies; lower stream, river and lake levels; and reduce runoff in major watersheds. Once major bodies of water are affected, municipalities and other industries such as recreation and tourism, fisheries, and transportation must also deal with the effects of drought.

Adaptation to climate and weather risk is implicit in the ongoing development of the agri-food sector. Agricultural systems have evolved to cope with some variations in climatic conditions, but may be vulnerable to extremes such as high winds, excessive or insufficient precipitation, hail, or extreme temperatures.

The current ADRMP builds upon the original key strategies to better manage the risks of drought and climate change during three defined situations: 1) normal or near normal conditions, 2) exceptional / notable conditions; and 3) extreme conditions.

Each farm needs minimum amounts of rainfall at various times to continue functioning normally. Anything less than the minimum will mean that a change in planning and decision-making is required. The critical amount and timing will depend on stored soil moisture reserves, the specific crop, pasture or livestock. An action plan can be established that can include response and/or decision times.

In the past, governments have often hesitated to act due to differing opinions on what constitutes a drought. Such hesitation can hinder the mitigation of the impact of drought before it becomes a crisis. For this reason, actions under the ADRMP start long before a severe drought occurs. When drought conditions are indicated by the various monitoring systems, specific actions may be triggered depending on the severity of the conditions.

What is Drought?

There is no definitive definition of drought. Research in the early 1980s uncovered more than 150 published definitions of drought. The definitions reflect differences in regions, needs, and disciplinary approaches.

There is a huge range in the perception of drought. Some people may have a “feeling” that they are in drought after just a few weeks of no rain; whereas, others may consider that there is a drought only if the paddocks are totally denuded of grass. Perception of drought depends on the individual's experiences and the climatic region where they live.

Drought is commonly considered to be a deficiency of moisture when compared to some normal or expected amount over an extended period of time.

Some repercussions of drought include:
  • Decreased agricultural production: crops, livestock, range / pasture
  • Decreased water supplies: wells, dugouts, streams, lakes, wetlands
  • Increased fire
  • Increased pests, such as grasshoppers
  • Long-lasting effects: soil erosion (wind, water)
  • Multi-sector effects resulting in:
  • Decreased employment
  • Net farm losses
  • Decreased GDP
For the purposes of this plan, “Drought” is defined as an extended period of below-normal precipitation resulting in decreased soil and subsoil moisture levels and diminished surface water supplies affecting crop growth, livestock water or irrigation water.

Drought and climate change are not problems to be solved; rather, they are risks that must be managed.

Vision for the ADRMP

The ADRMP is a pro-active, effective, and fiscally responsible approach to mitigating the effects of drought on Alberta’s agricultural areas.

Goals and Outcomes

The drought management planning and actions of government are:
communicated to producers,
  • coordinated and effective,
  • consistent over time, and amongst departments, and
  • drought monitoring and reporting is effective and timely, supporting planning and action.
Alberta's agricultural producers have access to, and use the knowledge provided, to manage risk associated with periodic drought; and are therefore more prepared and less vulnerable to drought.

Drought Management Actions

The ADRMP is supported by three approaches to action that are in turn linked to the various levels of drought:
  • drought preparedness focuses on year-round efforts, especially during non-drought times, to increase the level of readiness of the agricultural community and government to respond to the next drought.
  • drought monitoring and reporting on soil moisture conditions, precipitation amounts, and temperature regimes in the agricultural areas of Alberta; and
  • drought response involves taking appropriate action during and immediately following a drought to reduce drought impacts on producers.
Drought Level or Moisture Condition

The levels of drought (moisture / hyrdometeorological conditions) that are addressed in the Drought Action Plan, and that are used throughout the reporting mechanisms of the ADRMP, are threefold:

Normal or Near Normal Conditions:
  • Precipitation amounts and soil moisture reserves are near normal
  • Crops and pastures are not showing moisture stress
  • Temperature regime is near normal
  • Normal releases from reservoirs
Exceptional / Notable Conditions:
  • The province or a portion of the province is operating under the potential for drought conditions
  • Precipitation amounts and soil moisture reserves are moderately low to very low
  • Crops and pastures are beginning to show moisture stress
  • Declining stream flows and water shortages beginning to emerge
  • Temperature regime may be higher or lower than normal
Extreme Conditions:
  • The province or a portion of the province is suffering drought; according to the indices
  • Precipitation amounts and soil moisture reserves are extremely low
  • Crops and pastures are suffering moisture stress with significant yield reductions expected to occur
  • Severe water supply deficits (very low stream flows, lake and reservoir levels) and severe water shortages are occurring
  • Temperature regime may be extremely high or low

The full Alberta Agriculture Drought Risk Management Plan can be viewed by clicking here The ADRMP.

Other Documents in the Series

  Drought Action Plan
Preparing for Dry Conditions
Drought Monitoring and Reporting
Drought Response Actions
Agriculture Drought Risk Management Plan for Alberta - Current Document
For more information about the content of this document, contact Isabel Simons-Everett.
This information published to the web on May 13, 2002.
Last Reviewed/Revised on July 24, 2014.