Dry conditions have made it difficult for farmers and ranchers to use their land to grow food and generate revenue. Wildlife behavior is also impacted by lack of water which has consequences for recreational land and the public. Droughts and lack of rain continue to create significant challenges for landowners in the Midwest and West.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 49.18% of the lower 48 U.S. states experienced drought during the week of August 10 to 16, 2022. During that time, 171.3 million acres of crops experienced droughts. To make matters even worse, new research shows that “flash droughts” have become increasingly common in the U.S. and worldwide.
Luckily, landowners can adapt to changes in weather patterns. The following options could solve or help mitigate the challenges caused by droughts. Whether buying land, selling land, or working the land, these strategies should improve the value of real estate used for ranches, agriculture, and recreation.
Plant More Drought-Resistant Crops
Planting more drought-resistant crops helps protect you from unexpectedly dry growing seasons. You don’t necessarily need to stop growing the crops that make your farm successful, though. Instead, you can choose crop varieties that require less water than others. For example, if you want to grow watermelon, choose a relatively drought-tolerant variety like Black Diamond watermelons.
Other drought-resistant crops to consider include:
• Bush beans
• Lima beans
• Anasazi Sweet corn
• Jupiter Red Bell peppers
Contact your County Cooperative Extension Office if you need help choosing crops suitable for your land and climate.
Upgrade to a Smart Irrigation System
Many smart irrigation systems have features that ensure crops receive the perfect amount of moisture. The plants thrive, and landowners get to reduce the amount of water they use. For example, a smart irrigation system might have a sensor that measures the amount of moisture in a field. If it has an appropriate amount of moisture for the crop, it does not need water. When the field does need water, the irrigation system will deliver the precise amount required for healthy growth.
With smart irrigation, you can add all the information needed for the system to make decisions independently. You still maintain control over your water because you can always override the system’s actions.
Pay Close Attention to Water-Well Management
Wells that tap into underground aquifers can provide a lot of water for farmland and ranches. Unfortunately, underground water levels can run low during droughts, especially when more landowners in the area need to rely on their wells.
Paying close attention to water-well management could improve how you use the water and protect equipment from damage.
Some tips for more effective management include:
• Adding storage tanks that can hold pumped water for later use
• Communicating with neighbors to schedule well usage and prevent low aquifer levels
• Listening for signs that low water levels force your pump motor to cycle, which can lead to damage
Test the quality throughout the drought if you rely on the well for drinking water. The chemical composition of aquifer water can change depending on its depth.
Use Digital Tools to Expand Control and Capabilities
Smart virtual tools are available for increased productivity and control of resources on farm and ranch land, including digital control over water productivity. Virtual fences help control rotational grazing and keep cattle out of unwanted areas.
Be Aware of Impact on Wildlife Behavior
Animals like deer, elk, and moose depend largely on native grasses and crops to survive. In drought conditions, these animals will often leave their normal habitat in search for more nutrition. In doing so, they often end up near roadways and highways causing dangerous collisions with vehicles.
Black bears rely heavily on a good acorn crop, as well as nuts and berries for a high calorie count. When a drought occurs, bears are often forced into the nearest town where they're found turning over garbage cans, diving in dumpsters, and destroying barbecue grills trying to find a meal.
While it might be tempting to do so, one of the biggest mistakes the public can make is leaving food and water out for wild animals during drought conditions. What may seem like a sweet and innocent gesture, often leads to animals becoming patterned and dependent on humans, instead of the natural world. The effect of this is a wildlife/human interaction that can have negative consequences for landowners and the public.
Find a Land Consultant in Your Area
For those who might want to sell their land or are looking to buy land, factors like drought are among many reasons why it is wise to work with a seasoned land real estate professional like those who hold the Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) Designation.