Agriculture is one of the most heavily impacted industries during a drought. Water shortage is making it difficult for farmers to grow their crops and provide food for their animals. The increasing drought effects on agriculture are also causing widespread damage to crops and livestock. In some cases, farmers have to make tough decisions about whether to continue farming or sell their land and equipment.
Thankfully, there are ways that farmers can adjust their operations to deal with the challenges, such as planting drought-resistant fruit trees, modifying land use, and more. This blog post will explore some of the effects of drought on agriculture and discuss strategies that farmers can use to mitigate those effects.
Decreased Water Availability for Agriculture
Decreased water availability for agriculture is a huge problem that will increase in magnitude as global temperatures continue to rise. Farmers are already having trouble growing enough to produce due to the dry conditions, and many crops have been decimated by lack of precipitation. With reduced water resources, there is less water for irrigation in agriculture. This can lead to crop failure, increased food prices, and ultimately famine if it’s not dealt with appropriately.
Adaptation strategies to fight against the effects of drought on agriculture must be implemented right away to ensure future agricultural success when using limited water resources during drought conditions. These include:
- Crop management strategies that optimize water use
- Irrigation design and strategies that minimize waste
- Use of drought-resistant crops
- Reclamation and reuse of wastewater for irrigation purposes
- Promotion of agroforestry as a way to increase water uptake and storage capacity
Increased Incidences of Pests and Diseases
When combined with rising high temperatures, drought significantly increases cases of pests and diseases that primarily affect forage, crops, and livestock. For instance, the recent locust swarms in parts of East Africa and the Middle East were mainly attributed to the drought and the associated stress on vegetation. Pest and disease management is highly challenging on drought-stressed plants and animals.
To mitigate increased pest incidences and animal diseases, it is essential to use pesticides and insecticides that are highly effective in drought conditions. Steps to help farmers deal with this drought effect on agriculture include:
- Scouting, early detection, and identification of pests
- Using proper cultural practices
- Planting drought-tolerant crops, fruit trees, and using resistant varieties
- Smart animal husbandry practices
Crop Failure and Pasture Losses
Another effect of drought is crop failure and pasture losses for livestock. Drought can cause poor pollination of crops which leads to crop failure, especially for fruits and vegetables that are generally reliant on insect or animal pollinators. Crops rely heavily on rainwater, so their inability to tap into deeper water reserves in times of drought leads them to be very sensitive to drought conditions.
Livestock farming often suffers from drought effects on agriculture, with pasture losses being one of them. Drought-resistant grasses and shrubs exist, but only certain types would be appropriate for certain environmental conditions. To mitigate major crop failure and pasture losses during times of drought, farmers and livestock keepers should:
- Increase irrigation
- Maintain crop diversity
- Use drought-resistant plants
- Make use of available weather information
- Implement drought-resistant crops and livestock breeds
- Use water-conserving methods in agricultural production
- Better management practices for rangelands and pastures
Reduced Yields of Food Crops
Reduced crop yield is another drought effect on agriculture that greatly impacts food production. In fact, regular droughts reduce crop yields by up to 30%. The lack of water makes the plants’ stalks weaker and can cause them to topple over. The fruits or vegetables that do grow may be smaller than usual and have less flavor. Farmers in drought-stricken areas must often choose which crops to grow, and sometimes they are forced to abandon their fields altogether.
To ensure proper crop yields despite drought conditions, farmers should implement various strategies:
- Plant drought-resistant fruit trees and crops
- Opt for types of irrigation like drip irrigation that combat water loss during a dry period
- Use mulch to keep moisture in the ground
- Water new seeds every day until they sprout, then water them less frequently as they grow more drought-resistant roots
- Adjust planting and watering schedules according to the weather forecast to mitigate drought effects on agriculture
Risk for Crop Nutritional Deficiencies
Drought-stricken areas tend to have poor soil, contributing to nutritional deficiencies in crops. A dearth of rainfall means that the water table is lower than normal, resulting in nutrient runoff. Some areas are also deprived of atmospheric moisture due to drought conditions when they need it most. This can lead to an increase in crop stress and a decrease in overall yield.
The lack of water can also cause plant roots to shrink, making it difficult for them to take up the nutrients they need from the soil. To avoid extensive nutritional deficiencies in crops, farmers should take these steps to mitigate the effects of drought on agriculture:
- Have a plan for how to irrigate their crops, even if they are drought resistant
- Use fertilizers and other soil amendments that can be taken up by plants and transported within the plant (such as through xylem tissue)
- Rotate crops between fields each year – this will ensure that at least some of the fields are always receiving nutrients from a previous crop
Higher Risk for Experiencing Economic Loss
Drought conditions can significantly impact agricultural production, with different crops and regions being affected in different ways. The lack of water can lead to reduced yields and, in some cases, total crop loss. This can cause farmers to experience economic losses, which can ripple through the entire economy. Specialty crops like vegetables, tree nuts, and medicinal herbs are especially vulnerable to drought conditions with a higher value per unit of land/water.
This means that the effects of drought can have a greater impact on farmers’ bottom line and agriculture in general. To help protect themselves from these losses, farmers need to take various measures:
- Adjust production strategies based on predicted severity and duration of the drought
- Plant crops that can withstand dry conditions
- Move operations to regions where the climate is more conducive to agriculture
- Increase irrigation efficiency, water conservation, soil moisture retention techniques
- Diversify crop production with livestock or other products to balance out risk from drought loss
- Purchase insurance coverage against weather events like droughts that may reduce yields or total product in large production farms
- Seek out financial assistance from programs like the USDA’s Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and Farm Service Agency (FSA)
Learn More at Fruit Growers Supply
Considering the challenges that drought can bring for the agricultural sector, farmers must stay ahead of the curve to mitigate these effects. This is especially true for farmers who produce highly vulnerable crops like fruits, flowers, and vegetables. At Fruit Growers Supply, we’re committed to helping farmers succeed in the face of drought. We provide resources for drought-resistant fruit trees, irrigation supplies, and more.
We will be happy to answer any questions about drought effects on agriculture and provide additional information about our products. Feel free to contact us anytime. Be sure to check out our website for more information.