Ranching depends on healthy pastures and rangelands, and drought can have a devastating effect on the quality and quantity of livestock food supplies. Ranchers look to environmental data for insights about the condition of their land and whether it can support their herds.
As the world’s largest producer of domestic and exported beef, U.S. cattle ranchers use the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) maps and comparisons to make timely, critical decisions that can directly affect the success of their operations. The Drought Monitor is also used by agencies to declare drought disasters and provide assistance to ranchers and farmers.
Drought is Costly—Information Manages Risks
Drought is the second costliest weather disaster in the United States, according to NCEI’s Billion Dollar Disasters calculations. However, unlike hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, which can create immediate and visible damage, drought develops quietly and slowly, often without apparent impacts until water shortages become severe and crops wither. Livestock producers monitor drought to understand the severity of current conditions and to gauge how the drought may evolve or when it may end. This provides them with critical environmental information that allows them to manage risk.
“When we first started, our priorities were production of the livestock,” says Jim Faulstich, a cattle rancher in Highmore, South Dakota. Rather than solely focusing on cattle production, his ranch gives greater attention to managing the land. “We soon learned that (cattle) shouldn’t be where our top priority is. We switched to natural resources.”
As drought reduces the quality of pasture lands, ranchers may have to consider purchasing additional feed for their animals. Timing purchases is important if feed prices rise due to higher demand and dwindling supplies. If drought is particularly extreme or long-lasting and feed becomes too expensive, ranchers may have to reduce their herds.
Having an easily accessible tool to monitor drought in near-real time is important to a range of additional stakeholders besides ranchers; its value extends to livestock prospectors and traders, landowners who lease grazing land, livestock associations, and federal and state agencies that administer drought-relief programs or that manage federally owned land. Overall, the U.S. livestock industry generates more than $100 billion in annual revenues.
[U.S. Drought Monitor map and narrative summary are released each week by Drought.gov]
CEI supports the USDM with analysis and weather data that are used to create drought designations. The designations reported each week describe drought conditions across the country, from abnormal dryness to exceptional drought. The USDM consolidates information from drought indicators, climate and hydrological data, soil measurements, models, and local observations. Not only does NCEI supply data, but our scientists also add scientific analysis of drought conditions in descriptive, narrative summaries.
Drought Conditions Determine Assistance
Because drought conditions can significantly impact the livestock industry, government officials created a mechanism to provide feed assistance to farmers that takes into account the USDM. When drought conditions meet certain thresholds over time, financial assistance is triggered per location based on the severity of the event. The USDA’s Livestock Forage Program, part of the 2014 Farm Bill, set the criteria for disaster assistance using USDM drought designations. Assistance can be received as soon as 30 days after drought impacts merit aid.
“It allows us to process applications in real time,” says executive officer Jamie White of the USDA Farm Service Agency in South Dakota. “That provides necessary resources to the livestock producer in real time to purchase additional feed as needed.”
In addition to NCEI, several organizations support the USDM, including the Department of Commerce, the USDA, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service, the National Drought Mitigation Center, and the National Integrated Drought Information System.
Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels
It's going to be a long winter. The first major snow storm for the nation brought icy conditions and struggles for… https://t.co/hLC3lLKLzV49 minutes ago by WeatherNation
NEW OVERNIGHT - The struggle was REAL for drivers across the St. Louis area as roads became snow packed and tractio… https://t.co/Y1aDncXC0C1 hour ago by WeatherNation
SELFIES AROUND THE US - What iconic spot have YOU taken your favorite selfie? Nice weather today meant this constru… https://t.co/SIDOQknHiC8 hours ago by WeatherNation
SHOWER OF FIRE - Check out this terrifying video as embers from a palm tree on fire were spewed onto a house nearby… https://t.co/WFekKXZEHd9 hours ago by WeatherNation
NEW: Winter Storm Watches for SE Wyoming, including Cheyenne and Laramie. Significant snow possible on Friday & Sat… https://t.co/3F9qmZUKM49 hours ago by WeatherNation
DANGEROUS ROADS! Icy and wet roads leading to numerous accidents across the South. Make sure to take your time to w… https://t.co/eDUnBr83oz11 hours ago by WeatherNation
Snowy day for Arkansas, roads may be icy this evening. Please be careful if you're in the area. https://t.co/TP6rBjPBMn12 hours ago by WeatherNation
A clipper system is moving into the Midwest later this week - and along with it, a big Arctic chill.… https://t.co/4oVZldvf4J12 hours ago by WeatherNation
TREE ON FIRE - Embers from wildfires can be transported near ... and far ... by windy conditions as we've seen in S… https://t.co/G2Nx3dDstT14 hours ago by WeatherNation
Fire weather conditions in Southern California remain high through the end of the workweek -> https://t.co/QsDbcDlXEY16 hours ago by WeatherNation
The flakes were flying earlier this morning in Monroe, Louisiana. This is the earliest measurable snowfall EVER i… https://t.co/54AUmhGAoF17 hours ago by WeatherNation
The same storm system that will bring wintry weather from the mid-South to the Appalachians will likely produce flo… https://t.co/khC6QNUTdf19 hours ago by WeatherNation