by National Drought Mitigation Center staff
When the rain stops, ranchers have questions. The new Ranch Drought Monitoring Dashboard helps them find answers.
When the rain stops, and drought sets in, ranchers ask questions. How severe is the drought and how long might it last? How do conditions this year compare to the last drought, or last year? How much forage can I expect will grow? And might it rain enough to catch up and have a “normal” year for grazing?
According to National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) staff member Tonya Haigh, “When ranchers can’t find answers to these questions, they may be more likely to take a ‘wait and see’ approach about drought before acting to reduce its impact. If we can provide a resource that offers answers and information that address those questions, we can help ranchers be more pro-active during drought. So that’s what we did.”
A new Ranch Drought Monitoring Dashboard aims to provide information to help ranchers in the Great Plains and Southwest U.S. answer common drought-related questions and to support rancher decision-making. The dashboard contains a number of features, including an interactive display of drought and precipitation data, outlooks, on-the-ground condition reports, vegetative drought stress, and forage productivity maps. Used together, the map layers provide a clear picture of current drought conditions and expectations. To put current conditions in the context of past years, the dashboard offers side-by-side (current and past) maps of the U.S. Drought Monitor. Comparing years can help ranchers reflect on past management and outcomes and make more informed decisions in the present.
Informing ranchers’ forage prospects, the dashboard features the USDA-supported Grass-Cast tool. Grass-Cast projects forage productivity in the upcoming growing season under below-normal, near-normal, and above-normal precipitation scenarios, relative to an area’s approximately 40-year history. Monthly and seasonal outlooks are useful for setting expectations for precipitation. In addition, the dashboard links to tools that identify the seasonality of a location’s precipitation, forage growth, and likelihood of transitioning between dry and wet conditions at various times of the year. Finally, the dashboard offers a library of resources and case studies of ranch drought management plans for ranchers who are looking for management options.
The Ranch Drought Monitoring Dashboard was developed by the NDMC in collaboration with the USDA Northern Plains and Southwest Climate Hubs, with input by Extension and NRCS range experts in the regions, and funding support by the USDA Office of the Chief Economist. It was released to the public in April, at https://drought.unl.edu/ranchplan/monitor.aspx.