Farmers can reduce extreme weather impacts, say extension educators

Field of yellow flowers with blue skies and clouds
Brassicas, such as this flowering rapeseed (brassica napus), can be used as cover crops. Shutterstock photo: Daniel Prudek

Farmers can’t change the weather, but two management practices can help buffer the effects of heavy rains, drought and other weather extremes, according to new guides from a team of extension educators at University of Wyoming, University of Nebraska and Montana State University.

“Minimizing Extreme Weather Impacts: Cover Crops 101” and “Using No-Till to Minimize Extreme Weather Impacts” are available free from UW Extension at bit.ly/UWEpubs.

Planting cover crops in rotation with primary agricultural crops can support soil quality and fertility, increase water infiltration and reduces erosion. A cover crop can be a single species crop or a mixed-species crop, such as legumes, grasses and brassicas (mustard family).

Other benefits may include reducing soil compaction, suppressing weeds, improving soil microorganism populations and providing habitat and food sources for birds, mammals and beneficial insects.

“Cover crops should be customized to the individual operation and objectives,” said Jerimiah Vardiman, lead author from UW Extension. He noted the potential exists for no benefits or even negative impacts, such as reduction in soil nitrogen, if cover crops are not managed correctly.

No-till farming is not new but is not widely used, said Tyler Williams of University of Nebraska Extension.

With a no-till approach, crops are grown with minimal soil disturbance, and the soil is kept covered with crop residue to conserve soil and water.

Advantages are soil moisture conservation, erosion control, reduced fuel and labor costs and benefits to soil structure and health. Disadvantages are increased dependence on herbicides, no incorporation of residue, manure or fertilizer and slow soil warming on poorly drained soils.

For more information, contact Vardiman at 307-754-8836 or jvardima@uwyo.edu.

These short introductions to field management systems are among the many guides, free courses and videos from UW Extension that help extend skills in cropping, small acreage management, irrigation, wildlife habitat and more. YouTube video series from UW Extension include “Barnyards and Backyards,” “From the Ground Up” and “Exploring the Nature of Wyoming.”

Methods to reduce drought effects focus of Campbell County workshop

            The effects of drought on ranch economics, the animals and the range are topics of the “Impacts of Drought” workshop Monday, March 19, in Gillette.

The session is 12:30-4 p.m. in the Cottonwood Room at the Campbell County University of Wyoming Extension office, 412 S. Gillette Ave., said Blake Hauptman, extension educator.

Topics are:

* Economic effects of drought. Drought’s impact on stocking ratios and feeding and economic practices.

* Animal response to range. Management and nutritional strategies to reduce forage needs while still maintaining high performance levels.

* Native range response. Drought impacts to range and the basics of grass growth and timing with regard to precipitation.

RSVPs are requested to the Campbell County extension office at 307-682-7281 by Monday, March 12.

UW Extension offers self-paced drought planning course

Extension educator Ashley Garrelts visits with a producer last summer during the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center field day near Lingle..

Producers taking a free online rangeland drought planning course will exit with a drought plan tailored to their operations, and agency employees completing the course will be able to guide producers in creating a plan.

While the self-paced course is debuting during a wet period, it is never too early to plan for drought conditions, said Ashley Garrelts, University of Wyoming Extension educator who built the course.

The course is divided into six self-guided modules, including an introduction, soils, plants, livestock, management and economics.

“This course is designed to walk rangeland managers and livestock producers through how to plan for drought so that inevitably when it occurs they will be able to respond in a timely manner,” said Garrelts, based in Converse County and also serving Natrona and Niobrara counties.

To enroll, go to bit.ly/uwdroughtplanning. For more information, contact Garrelts at 307-358-2417 or at ashleyg@uwyo.edu.