Drought Management Decisions - Winter

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week
 Weather | Gathering information | Pasture management for drought | Signs of stress


Have I checked the long-range forecast for my area?
As winter progresses without adequate precipitation, moisture for spring planting or pasture growth becomes a concern. 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.

Gathering Information

Am I gathering information to make informed production decisions for the spring?

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
You labor and toil, put seed in the soil
Yet no rain will fall from the sky"

Adapted from the poem "To Mouse" with sincere apologies to Robert Burns.

Deciding when to adjust your production inputs starts when the snow is still on the ground. By developing a contingency plan early, you can save yourself the stress and worry that comes with the dependence on Mother Nature for timely rains. The more information you can collect ahead of time, the easier that plan is to develop. Your contingency plan needs to include:

In your cost of production analysis you need to develop possible scenarios of below average, average and above average yields along with a worst case/best case price for each crop that you plan to grow. Using this analysis, you can predetermine which crop can give you the best returns given the possibility of poor growing conditions. This also lets you use your own figures to develop this analysis.

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

Precipitation maps and climate information will assist you in comparing precipitation to date and forecasted precipitation to the average. Precipitation information, updated monthly, along with spring and fall soil moisture maps can help you determine the potential for drought on your farm.

You have decided what to plant, determined your cost of production, built your scenarios and calculated the possibilities of drought. Now what? The next step is to assess what inputs you will need to optimize crop production this year. Water is the most limiting factor during times of drought, however, farmers have limited control over available amounts of this input. Snow trapping, shelterbelts, and reduced tillage are just some of the soil moisture conservation techniques that have been used to conserve or store precipitation in the soil for subsequent crops. But in Alberta, dryland farmers rely primarily on Mother Nature to provide sufficient quantities of growing season precipitation to grow our crops.

Some inputs such as soil fertility and weed density, which we do have control over, are listed below.
  • Soil testing -- Proper nutrition is essential for satisfactory crop growth and production. The use of soil tests can help to determine the status of plant available nutrients and in turn to develop fertilizer recommendations and achieve optimum crop production. The profit potential for farmers depends on producing enough crop per acre to keep production costs below the selling price. Efficient application of the correct types and amounts of fertilizers for the supply of the nutrients is an important part of achieving profitable yields.
  • Fertilize to meet the requirements of the crop for the expected yield due to drought. This can be determined by the soil test report or by contacting your local crop specialist for assistance.
  • Field scouting is another money saving step that you can use to minimize costs of pesticides. In terms of weed control, using early control measures that favor crop competition is the best plan. Scouting for insects and diseases weekly, and more frequently when pests are found, works to your advantage.
  • Economic thresholds have been developed for a number of insect pests that attack forages. Use these as guidelines for determining economic thresholds.
As with any plan, you will need to make adjustments as weather and price change over the season. Time spent in the winter months developing your plan will pay dividends at harvest.

Pasture Management for Drought

Have I made plans to adjust spring range and pasture management for drought conditions?
Drought can seriously affect the condition and production of range and pasture over time. Decreased condition may not be noticeable in the year of a drought, however continued overstocking with the added stress of drought will seriously affect the health and production potential of the pasture.

Signs of Stress

Have I honestly determined the extent of the effect of drought and the resulting financial and mental stress on my family? What can I do to to deal with it?
Although drought conditions are more apparent during summer months, many farmers and their families can continue to feel stress, frustrated and no longer in control, during the winter months. A certain amount of stress is considered a normal part of doing business and actually helps motivate you to get things accomplished. Too much stress on the other hand, will impair your work performance, your relationships and your health. It is important to recognize the symptoms of stress and to deal with the causes before long-term damage is done.

Farming is considered one of the top 10 high stress occupations in North America. So even without the problems associated with drought, there is a high level of stress involved in the job you and your family members do each day. Long hours, unpredictable weather, decreased commodity prices, increased input prices, loan payments and a never-ending list of jobs that needed to be done yesterday, all contribute to your level of stress.

While you may not be able to control the source of your stress, such as drought, you can manage its effect on your life. By recognizing the symptoms of stress and taking steps to manage or relieve the symptoms until the cause can be addressed, you will increase your job performance and decrease chance of physical illness.

If you or someone you know is feeling stressed, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Family and friends are great sources of support, as are family doctors who will discuss the problem and suggest options for treatment.
There are many crisis lines operating throughout the province that provide confidential and anonymous services to anyone looking for help dealing with the symptoms of stress.

  • Some Other Solution (SOS), a counseling service covering northeast Alberta, can be reached toll-free, 24-hours a day at 1-800-565-3801.
  • The Support Network covers northwest Alberta and provides a 24-hour suicide prevention and distress line at 1-800-232-7288. Those in the Greater Edmonton Area can call 780-482-HELP (4357).
  • Walk-in counselling is also available at The Support Network, #301 -11456 Jasper Ave, Edmonton Alberta. There is no fee and no appointment required. Call 780-482-0198 for further information.
  • PACE Crisis line (Providing Assistance, Counselling and Education) serves the Peace region with a 24-hour crisis line at 780-539-6666.

Other Documents in the Series

  Year-Round Drought Management Decisions
Drought Management Decisions - Spring
Drought Management Decisions - Summer
Drought Management Decisions - Fall
Drought Management Decisions - Winter - Current Document
Drought Management Checklist
Share via AddThis.com
This information published to the web on June 15, 2001.
Last Reviewed/Revised on July 13, 2017.