Extreme drought conditions and rampant wildfires continue to impact large regions across the United States. Dry conditions significantly increase the risk of wildfires. Due to the lack of precipitation and moisture, dried-out and withered plants and trees are highly susceptible to wildfires. Natural fires are typically started by lightning strikes, and some are started by spontaneous combustion. Nearly 85 percent of wildfires that have occurred over the past two decades have been caused by humans.
The drought has significantly impacted the agricultural sector as water availability is a crucial input needed in agricultural production. This sector works to provide nutritious and plentiful foods along with millions of job opportunities across the country. It is estimated that more than 43 million U.S. jobs are connected to agriculture in some way.
DISRUPTIONS TO RANCHING OPERATIONS
It is tough to be a rancher during a drought. Ranchers across the region are experiencing major losses and disruptions to their operations as these dry conditions continue. Ag production losses, water shortages, along with increased pests and diseases are all issues that are hindering productivity and profits for ranchers. Low water allocations cause major declines in crop production and growth. Reduced soil quality hinders the opportunity for crops and vegetation to thrive which can result in decreased livestock productivity.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, there are currently 15.6 million beef cattle in the United States that are experiencing a drought. Cattle are eating the little amount of forage that they can find. Ranchers across the country are struggling as their livestock animals cannot obtain the necessary nutrients from the pastures that they are grazing on.
To hold a sustainable herd, ranchers must ensure that their cattle have a supplemental amount of grass to forge on, as well as plenty of water available for them to drink. An average adult cow can drink around 30 gallons of water and can eat more than 20 pounds of grass per day. Consider a rancher with 150 head of cattle. That is 4,500 gallons of water (about half the volume of a large U-Haul truck) and 3,000 pounds of grass (about half the weight of an elephant) per day.
The health monitoring feature of our livestock management system monitors the activity levels of the animal to generate alerts using artificial intelligence models. When the GPS ear tag obtains cell service, the ear tag will check-in and will create activity points. The rancher is then able to monitor where their animals are and will be notified about any odd occurrences.
Proper pasture management practices can result in minimized grazing pressure if done correctly. Overgrazing may occur if pastures are not rotated properly. This can hinder the opportunity for the regrowth of plants for cattle to eat. With the use of our cattle management system, ranchers can monitor the grazing patterns of their herd with real-time data to optimize their forage usage. Not only does this reduce stress on areas of pastures, but it also reduces stress for the rancher.
PESTS & DISEASES
Drought conditions and extreme temperatures expand the opportunity for pests, infections, and diseases to occur. Pink eye in cattle is more likely to occur in these extreme heat and dry conditions. When cattle are grazing on dry pastures, any tall grass or shrub brush is likely to poke their eye and cause irritation. When irritation occurs and goes untreated for an extended period, that animal is likely to lose its eyesight.
The record-keeping capacities that are available with our management system allow ranchers to easily add notes and comments about individual animals in their herd. If an animal were to have contracted an infection or disease, the user would be able to input that information into our software application. That information would be stored in the cloud and become available to all permitted users in the company when connected to the internet.
There are adverse effects of drought stress for both ranchers and livestock animals. Ranchers have to weigh options for their operations as the drought continues. Some ranches are forced to spend extra on feed and water for their livestock. Others may choose to sell a portion or even their entire herd to feedlots as they do not foresee an economic profit from keeping them. These occurrences can impact a rancher's debt to asset ratio, as well as their bottom line. Cattle futures may not be met due to insufficient production weight requirements, leaving ranchers at a loss, while also affecting market conditions.
The effects of drought conditions can also have adverse effects on the local economy both directly and indirectly. When there are minimal grasses left for livestock animals to graze on, ranchers are left with no choice but to purchase expensive feed for their animals as a replacement. A direct economic impact would be a decrease in livestock production and an indirect impact would be seen as an increase in beef prices.
There are resources available to ranchers who are struggling during these challenging times. The USDA offers a wide variety of assistance from livestock assistance to crop loss programs. These resources may provide compensation to those who are eligible due to the current circumstances.
It is important for those involved in the agriculture industry to understand the impacts and the importance of drought prevention. The lack of rainfall and extreme temperatures that we are experiencing are far out of our control. It will take years to recuperate from the drought conditions that we are currently facing. We can all work together with those in our communities as an opportunity to learn and adapt to this drought and avoid worsening it.
For additional information and resources regarding the drought, check out these sources!