Drought workshop draws crowd to Socorro

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An estimated 200 ranchers, farmers and agricultural agency representatives from around the state convened in Socorro on May 29 to discuss drought planning, drought loss mitigation and resource management. New Mexico State University hosted a workshop at the Socorro County Extension Center to provide tools and ideas to agricultural producers and those agencies that work with them.

The workshop — sponsored by New Mexico State University, the National Drought Mitigation Center, National Integrated Drought Information System and New Mexico Section of the Society for Range Management — included presenters from the sponsoring organizations, as well as some state and federal agricultural support agencies.

New Mexico state climatologist Dave DuBois told attendees to expect drought conditions and fire danger to persist or worsen through early summer. Long-term conditions are tentative.

“At this point, long-term drought impacts are a given and the best we can hope for is temporary mitigation of drought impacts with any wetter periods,” DuBois said. “The impact: increased volatility and severity during fire season … especially in heavier fuels regimes.”

Presenters shared their experience and expertise on planning for drought and managing resources so as not to have to sell out completely. The further in advance a producer can plan, the better they will be able to weather the storm — or lack thereof.

“The first 90 days (of the season) are critical,” said Manny Encinias, NMSU Extension beef cattle specialist. “If you don’t see rainfall, then you need to act.”

New Mexico’s cattle herd has decreased by 83,197 since 2000, the largest decline in the last 28 years. Encinias and others recommended eliminating feeder stock and selling stock that doesn’t breed, as well as weaning and selling calves early — by mid-September.

Presenters from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resource Conservation Service shared information about federal programs and tools available to assist producers during these trying times.

The workshop concluded with an interactive session to help participants begin putting the information into practice through small group development of drought management plans. The session asked small groups to collectively answer five questions:

  • What water/drought dependent decisions do you need to make?
  • What information do you need in order to make these decisions, and where can you get this information?
  • Focus on what you have! What resources are available to you that you can use during this time?
  • How can you use the resources you have to help reduce drought impact and assist in recovery?

Many of the groups came up with strategies such as using financial reserves when available, offering unique opportunities to experience country life, offering increased hunting opportunities and using equipment for alternative resources such as hauling water or hauling livestock for others.

Several participants indicated they planned to put the information to use right away.

“It was a great workshop; good presenters and information,” local rancher/farmer Jim Grider said. “I will definitely use the drought planning tool.”

Attendees left with a planning guide and the sample strategies they gleaned from the workshop, as well as information about the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly map that shows where and how badly drought is affecting the country. The U.S. Drought Monitor site is at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu.