American ingenuity leads the way

With the intensifying drought conditions in the American West, Southwest and Northern Plains, AFBF designed and distributed a survey to assess the impact of drought on farms and ranches. This Intel Market, the first in a series of articles focusing on drought, summarizes the results of our survey. Upcoming articles in the series will monitor farming conditions in the regions and highlight the state-specific challenges facing our farm and ranch families.

According to the July 22 release from the US Drought Monitor of the National Drought Mitigation Center, nearly 80% of West plus North and South Dakota is classified as D2 (severe drought) or higher. This is an increase from 68.5% the week of June 17 and a big jump from the 22% of the West designated as D2 or higher during the third week of July of the year. last. Over 90% of Arizona (95%), California (95%), North Dakota (97%), Nevada (95%) and Utah (100%) area qualify or exceeds level D2.

The 11 states in the Western region, along with the Dakotas, are vital to the U.S. agricultural sector, supporting one-third, or $ 112 billion, of total U.S. agricultural production by value. This includes 28% of the cattle and cows responsible (in total) for 18% of US agricultural production by value; 40% of dairy production responsible (in total) for 11% of US agricultural production in value; and more than 70% of the production of vegetables, fruits and nuts in value. Persistent drought conditions threaten the production of these products, as well as the stability of farms and ranches that depend on their crops and livestock for their income.

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To further quantify some impacts of drought at ground level, the AFBF survey on assessing drought conditions in the west was distributed between June 10 and 25 to leaders, staff and farmers. and ranchers in affected states and counties. The survey includes several demographic questions to distinguish state and county affiliation, followed by three distinct sections: crop-specific factors, livestock-specific factors, and general water access. Each section consists of a set of issues that farmers and herders may face due to persistent drought conditions (for example, selling parts of the herd or reducing the area planted). On a scale of 0 (not at all widespread) to 5 (extremely widespread), respondents were asked to select the prevalence of each problem in their condition based on their own experience or member awareness. Each section also includes a dedicated area for further comments.

The survey ended with 678 responses from 12 states in the West region + plus Hawaii. It is important to note that states have had the option of distributing the survey directly to members or completing the survey on behalf of their members at the county, district or state level. This means that some States provided a very large number of responses while others only submitted a few. Figure 2 summarizes the weighted and unweighted results at the national level.

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On average, states rated the sale of herd / herd portions, increased local feed costs due to drought, and long-distance travel to acquire feed and fodder to be common or greater. In particular, the selected drought-related problems are directly related to the profitability of a farm or ranch. Numerous herd / herd sales are flooding local auctions of young animals, increasing the supply and pushing down local prices. One respondent said: “The price received for the cow / calf pairs at the local auction is so low it’s like giving the animals away. Many respondents spoke of weaning animals earlier, reducing grazing time on rangelands, carrying water through mountains and moving herds across state borders. High feed costs attributed to abysmal precipitation levels further reduce achievable margins on livestock. A California breeder further explained, “We had to reduce our herd by 66% to deal with the feed shortage – traveling out of state to try to buy feed – huge transportation costs.

Noteworthy comment from the Arizona Farm Bureau:

“All the breeders we interviewed had started to liquidate or are planning to liquidate a significant part of their herd. What’s particularly difficult in Coconino County is covering the costs of transporting water, thanks to the rough terrain and water that can cost anywhere from 1 to 10 cents a gallon. And the cost of water does not include the cost of fuel, vehicle maintenance, and labor to get the water where it needs to go. Only one rancher reported transporting 240,000 gallons of water in that calendar year alone. “

On the crop side, the reduction in area planted and the switch to planned crops due to drought were found to be moderately widespread or higher. Increased tillage under crops was the least common problem, although state-to-state results varied, with Nevada stating that tillage was very common and New Mexico was almost no. Several participants reported current and expected yields down more than 75% of their normal harvest, with examples of seeded forage grasses not germinating, alfalfa ceasing to grow after a lean 4 inches, and plants completely withered to cause of low humidity levels. Many orchard growers have suffered frequent deaths, one respondent said: “Due to inadequacies in expected water deliveries from state and federal water supply projects, some farmers bulldozed almond trees. , others pruned trees substantially, others pulled up fruit to save the trees. “

Even under tough conditions, many growers have relied on good old American ingenuity, transitioning acreage to more drought tolerant crop varieties such as Sudan grass, dry beans and rye. As one farmer described it, “I’m trying a new crop that’s supposed to be more water efficient and with a high tonnage – a product for biofuel research.” Unfortunately, permanent crop types such as those grown on trees and vines cannot be so easily swapped between planting seasons.

The general water access problem associated with reduced surface water deliveries was rated near the very widespread threshold, with increases in groundwater use rated near prevalence. The variations in condition for the two general water access issues were more extreme than in the crops or livestock sections. Figure 3 illustrates the state-by-state scores for these general water access factors.

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The survey participants clearly underlined the diversity of water source points. Many rely on groundwater stored in aquifers, some on local rivers and streams, and others on snow runoff from nearby mountain ranges – all heavily affected by drought. Drilling new wells is expensive and does not always guarantee better access to water. One participant explained, “We started pumping well water in mid-April when a normal year we started in mid-July. Another said: “The reservoir we use for storing irrigation water is 58% of normal, which means 58% of the forage grown for livestock. Many farmers and ranchers are concerned about future local water use policies that could favor commercial and residential use over agricultural use, putting local farming businesses at risk.

Remarkable Commentary from a Member of the Utah Agricultural Bureau

“I truck water to pastures because the ponds and streams are dry and the groundwater is declining. I do this in places where I’ve never had to truck water before – since 1942, when my dad bought the ranch.


Western farmers and herders continue to struggle with severe droughts. The ability to illustrate the severity of these conditions and their impact on agriculture with existing data is very limited. The results of the AFBF survey on assessing drought conditions in the west provide a window into the operational-level obstacles that farmers and pastoralists face in coping with persistent water shortages. Most of these issues and adjustments negatively impact business revenues, jeopardizing the solvency of many farms and ranches. Given the vital role of the West in providing a third of the agricultural production in value, ensuring that effective drought mitigation goals are discussed and adopted is of the utmost importance for a food supply. nationwide secure and to protect our farm and ranch families.

Source: American Federation of Agricultural Offices, who is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all of its subsidiaries are not responsible for the content of this information asset.

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