Drought Management Decisions - Fall

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 Fall soil moisture techniques | Adjust harvest and post harvest inputs | Feed and water for winter | Reducing livestock inventory | Current long-term forecast

.Fall Soil Moisture Conservation Techniques

Have I used proper soil moisture conservation techniques this fall to improve growing conditions for next spring?
If you have experienced a dry summer, now is a good time to consider methods of retaining moisture for next spring. Moisture conservation techniques include leaving stubble or creating trap strips to catch snow over the winter for use by crops in the spring. Leaving crop residue on fields will help to increase organic matter, and decrease evaporation from the soil surface, increasing the quality of the soil for spring planting.

Conservation tillage systems include zero tillage, direct seeding and reduced tillage. these systems reduce the amount of soil disturbance, conserve soil moisture, increase soil moisture, and enhance soil quality.

Direct seeding, reduced tillage are terms used to describe the practise of reducing or eliminating tillage used in seedbed preparation. When making the switch to reduced tillage or direct seeding, it is important to consider your methods for crop residue management, especially any changes required to your machinery.

Conventional tillage systems use multiple tillage passes for weed control, fertilizer application, seed bed preparation and seeding. Conventional tillage systems can create a number of environmental problems such as:
  • increasing the rate of organic matter decomposition,
  • drying out the soil,
  • reducing the size and stability of soil aggregates, which increases the risk of compaction and crusting, and
  • burying crop residues, which leaves the soil prone to erosion.
Adjust Harvest and Post Harvest Inputs

Have I appropriately adjusted harvest and post harvest inputs to reflect current moisture and market conditions?
Deciding when or how to adjust your production inputs is a year-round task. In the spring, you may change seeding decisions based on soil moisture levels. In the summer, the weather may force you to change pesticide use. In the fall, the harvest may show where nutrient levels or seedbed preparation can be adjusted to optimize crop growth next year.

Fall decisions tend to centre around herbicide and fertilizer application, and possible fall and spring seeding choices. Conduct a Cost of Production analysis to help you develop best and worst case scenarios of production and commodity prices for the following year. Using this analysis, you can determine which commodities give you the best returns given the possibility of drought. The benefit of this tool is that you can use your own figures to develop the analysis.

Scanning market prices and commentaries will assist you in deciding what the potential commodity prices are doing. Marketing alternatives can be factored in to your planning.

Precipitation maps and climate information will assist you in determining the possibilities for abnormal weather in the upcoming growing season. This information, updated regularly, will help to determine what the spring conditions should be for your farm.

Once you have completed the Cost of Production analysis, you can make informed decisions about which commodities will give the best return for the expected conditions and what type and amount of inputs will be needed for maximum returns.

Another way to adjust inputs is by using them only where needed. For example, fertilizing only those areas of the field where the nutrients are depleted would be more cost-effective than fertilizing the whole field. The density of stubble left on the field after harvest may be an indication of areas of low nutrients. Soil tests can help you determine what nutrients are required.

In addition, you might consider fertilizing to meet the requirements of the crop for the expected drought affected yield. For example, reducing the fertilizer amounts when only a 50% of normal yield is expected, would be more cost-effective than fertilizing as if a normal yield were expected.

Informed decisions on production inputs will always be better than spur of the moment decisions. Therefore, a constant eye on cost of production, market prices and weather forecasts will help you make good production decisions and will help you make adjustments when needed throughout the year.

Related links:

Feed and Water for Winter

Do I have adequate feed and water stores to maintain my herd through the winter?
After suffering drought conditions through the summer and fall, your winter feed supplies may be limited. You may need to purchase feed for the winter. Hay, Straw and Pasture Listings provide links to available feed supplies listed by regions of the province. The Internet Hay Exchange lists hay for sale from all across Canada and the US.

If you do not have adequate feed on hand and you cannot purchase enough for the winter, selling unprofitable livestock may be your next best move.

Adequate water supplies are also important when going into winter as dry dugouts will not fill up over the winter. An alternate water source or access to one is important. Some alternatives to consider:

  • The Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Water Pumping Program provides pumping equipment on a rental basis for filling farm dugouts that were not filled by run-off and precipitation.
  • Hauling water by truck may be an alternative when other sources dry up, or are too far away to be accessed by pumping equipment.
  • If there are no other water stores available and there is insufficient water to maintain your herd, you may have to consider culling the herd.
  • For the long-term, it may be worthwhile to take stock of your water needs. In drought years and especially after multiple years of drought, water can become a scarce resource. The size and quality of the farm dugout is important in ensuring that you have adequate on-farm water storage. Protect your groundwater sources to ensure the best possible quality of water in your dugout.
Reducing Livestock Inventory

Should I consider reducing my livestock inventory?
When you have exhausted all other ways to maintain herd performance during drought, selling unprofitable livestock may be your next best move. Consider culling the bottom 5 to 15%; for example, pregnancy testing and culling open cows and cows that are over 10 to 12 years of age. This will make the feeding situation better for the younger cows and replacement heifers so that they don't lose condition.

If things continue to worsen, you may you may need to look at selling off the whole herd. The most pressing question in that decision is what would the net income (loss) per head have to be to justify holding the cattle for sale at a later date? Assembling cost and asset value information will help determine the appropriate sale date. There are some resources that can help you through this process, including Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development's Rancher's Risk and Return calculator.

Current Long-term Forecast

Have I checked the current and long-term weather forecast for my area?
Watching the forecast through the harvest season can help farmers to manage both the risk of poor harvest conditions and resulting shortages in winter feed supplies or crop yields. Current weather conditions, including the daily conditions and five-day forecast, can be found on Environment Canada's website.

Long-term forecasts for the next three to six months, or even longer, are available and may be worth considering. Farmers wondering how good long-term seasonal forecasts really are should keep in mind that temperature forecasts are more reliable than precipitation forecasts. It is also important to consider the local situation when interpreting the forecast.

Knowing what to expect over the short- and long-term can help you decide when to put your drought contingency plans into place.


Other Documents in the Series

  Year-Round Drought Management Decisions
Drought Management Decisions - Spring
Drought Management Decisions - Summer
Drought Management Decisions - Fall - Current Document
Drought Management Decisions - Winter
Drought Management Checklist
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Marcia Hewitt-Fisher.
This information published to the web on June 15, 2001.
Last Reviewed/Revised on November 2, 2017.