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Posts tagged: drought

A Hedge against Drought: Why Healthy Soil is ‘Water in the Bank’

Niagra Falls infographic

As soil health improves, so too does its hydrologic function. This graphic illustrates how much additional water could be stored in the soil of all U.S. cropland with the addition of 1 percent of organic matter.

While most look to the sky for drought relief, an increasing number of farmers are looking to the soil. And for good reason: Healthy soils capture and store much more water – which can come in handy during dry spells.

Through its “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is leading the effort to get more farmers and ranchers to adopt soil health management systems for a wide range of on- and off-farm benefits – including drought resiliency.

So what’s the water-banking secret in healthy soil? Read more »

Going Wild about Water at the World Water Forum

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research profile.

Water is a precious resource and will become scarcer as the human population continues to grow.  In many areas, climate change is expected to affect weather patterns. In general, the wetter areas are expected to get wetter and the drier areas are expected to get drier. This year, California’s drought has highlighted how important it is for land managers and producers to exercise best practices to increase water quality and quantity so there is enough to go around.

This year, USDA participated in the 7th Annual World Water Forum in Daegu, Republic of Korea. Every three years, the World Water Council hosts the Forum and develops the program in cooperation with the private sector, governments, industry, international governmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations and academic groups. Read more »

Technology to Help Us Deal with Drought

USDA-ARS agricultural engineers Susan O’Shaughnessy and Nolan Clark adjust the field of view for wireless infrared thermometers.

USDA-ARS agricultural engineers Susan O’Shaughnessy and Nolan Clark adjust the field of view for wireless infrared thermometers mounted on a center pivot irrigation system. The wireless sensors are used to measure crop canopy temperature for indications of water stress.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

With droughts becoming more severe, water tables getting lower and an increasing demand for water from growing suburbs and cities, farmers know they need to use water more sparingly. That’s why recently patented technology developed by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Texas is so important.

Steve Evett, Susan O’Shaughnessy, and their colleagues at the ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas have spent years trying to help growers maximize water in a region that depends on the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground reservoir under constant threat of overuse. They recently developed two complementary technologies that offer practical ways to ensure that crops get only as much water as they need. Read more »

In the West, Preparing for Uncertain Water Supply

The April 1 Snowpack Map shows the dramatic, early reduction in snowpack across the West.

The April 1 Snowpack Map shows the dramatic, early reduction in snowpack across the West.

“Well, this shouldn’t take long,” Dr. David Garen said as I sat down to interview him about April snowpack conditions. “March was warm and dry. Spring came early and the snowpack is already melting across most of the West. The End.”

Garen is a hydrologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Among other duties, he creates forecast maps and helps write the West-wide forecast summary for the Snow Survey Program.

“This year we had record low snowpack up and down the West Coast,” said Garen. “But even in the areas that had normal snowpack, it’s melting earlier than usual.” Historically, April 1st is when the snowpack peaks. This year has been different. Read more »

At the Agricultural Outlook Forum, Prognosticators Peer Ahead to 2060

Tom Brown, Economist, Rocky Mountain Research Station's Social and Economic Values Group, Forest Service, USDA, Fort Collins, CO. outlined climate models during his panel presentation at the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Tom Brown, Economist, Rocky Mountain Research Station's Social and Economic Values Group, Forest Service, USDA, Fort Collins, CO. outlined climate models during his panel presentation at the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

No one can say with certainty what the American climate will be like 45 years from now, but looking at climate models discussed at the Agricultural Outlook Forum last week in suburban Washington, D.C., the best prediction is that the American southwest will be drier, the northwest may get more rain and less snow, and the entire nation will see more climate variability.  Weather swings, and their effect on production, will be more pronounced.  Some areas may get too much rain in the winter and spring and not enough in the summer and fall.  That’s a guess, but it’s an educated one.

A few things are fairly certain:  There will be more people, and with a highly diffused American water management system, it will be a challenge to adapt. People will take priority over crops like rice.  Every drop of water will count. It will be necessary for areas accustomed to getting much of their water from melting snowpack to store more water in reservoirs, and water now discarded as “dirty” or “grey” can no longer be flushed away. Read more »

Oklahoma Ranchers’ Unflinching Courage Helps Them Thrive Despite Adversity

Oklahoma ranchers Julie and Robert Carr credit good old fashioned determination and a USDA Farm Service Agency loan with making it through one of the worst droughts to hit the state.

Oklahoma ranchers Julie and Robert Carr credit good old fashioned determination and a USDA Farm Service Agency loan with making it through one of the worst droughts to hit the state.

Since 2011, Julie Carr and her husband Robert slowly watched everything they worked for dry up and wither away.

Julie calls those days lemonade days — long stretches of hardship where life is throwing nothing but lemons and by the end of the day she has made lemonade. But those days were anything but sweet.

“We literally started with nothing,” said Julie, recalling how she and Robert left Texas 30 years ago and moved to Oklahoma just to buy a ranch. “We built this [business] cow by cow and calf by calf.” Read more »