Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Agricultural Impacts Of Current PA Drought Conditions

By Nicole Santangelo,
Penn State Extension

Most damage to crop conditions has been done in Pennsylvania, but real threats remain in the state for surface and groundwater supplies on farms.

Drought conditions have threatened Pennsylvania agriculture since early this year. The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration partner to provide the United States Drought Monitor

The drought monitor in July had 81 percent of Pennsylvania listed as Abnormally Dry and 4 percent in D1, moderate drought. Three months later, portions of Pennsylvania have recovered, but other portions have dipped further into drought status. 

Now 75 percent of Pennsylvania is in dry conditions with 38 percent in D1, moderate drought and 9 percent in D2, severe drought. 

Cool season grass yield has suffered the most due to drought conditions, followed by areas with poor corn growth and/or incomplete pollination.

In addition to the Drought Monitor, the United States Geological Survey maintains a database and interactive map showing drought conditions on a county by county basis. The interactive map can be found at "Pennsylvania Drought Condition Monitoring." (see map above)

The map classifies the following, green indicates no declaration, yellow is drought watch, orange indicates drought warning and red signifies emergency conditions.

The circular figure in each county shows conditions from 4 quadrants: Top Left - 90 day precipitation; Top Right - Surface water; Bottom Left - Palmer index indicator; Bottom Right - Groundwater indicators using observation wells.

Persistent dry weather in many counties has led to low groundwater supplies, low spring overflow and reduced pond and surface water levels. This poses a large threat to livestock producers in Pennsylvania. 

Some farms in the most severely affected areas have already begun to destock or sell stock earlier than normal this fall due to lack of forage and/or lack of water.

Neither future droughts nor the end of droughts is easy to predict. However, since we are now into the autumn months and out of the hot growing months, evapotranspiration is decreasing. 

Assuming good soil health, more precipitation will infiltrate lessening the effects of the drought. 

More information on evapotranspiration by month can be found at the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Considerations for working with farmers to reduce drought risk for agriculture:

-- Water security on livestock farms is always of high concern as most recent years has had high rainfall, however, lack of water resources typically happens abruptly. 

-- Planning for farm drought emergencies including hauling water, additional cisterns or improving current systems to reduce risk of running out of water.

-- Drought relief measures often do not kick in until a D3 Severe Drought declaration. Prior to this declaration point, it is important to keep good records of drought related losses and expenses.

-- Building soil health through reduced tillage and cover crops can increase soil moisture holding capacity. Learn more about soil health in the article: Managing Soil Health: Concepts and Practices.

-- Become familiar with and experiment with a diverse crop rotation to include crops that are drought tolerant and/or provide emergency forage.

-- Understand pasture manage and stocking rates during late summer grazing.

-- Consider water sensors or leak detectors in livestock barns and where applicable in irrigation systems.

[Visit DEP’s Drought webpage for the latest on drought watches and warnings.]

(Reprinted from Penn State Extension Oct. 21 Watershed Winds newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)

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[Posted: October 21, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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