Drought and Your Crops

Drought and Your Farms and Crops

A prolonged drought can have a serious impact on crops. Decreased precipitation reduces crop and forage growth and can ultimately result in crop loss. Weakened plants are also more susceptible to disease and insects. Drought conditions can also increase the level of wind erosion of top soil and increase the risk of fires. Planning ahead can help protect your crops during drought situations.

Use this checklist to make plans before, during, and after a drought situation.

Drought and Your Crops [PDF]

Before a Drought

Crop management ideas.

  • Plant crops that withstand dryness, hold water, and reduce the need for irrigation.
  • Rotate crops in ways that increase the amount of water that enters the soil.
  • Shift to cropping systems that are less water dependent than your current system.

Land management ideas.

  • Good land management before a drought provides greater flexibility when droughts occur.
    • Maintain healthy soils.
    • Balance stocking rates on pasture areas; do not allow overgrazing.
  • Try to use minimum tillage techniques.
    • Leaving crop residue from the previous year on the surface can help to minimize evaporation of moisture from the soil.
  • Use conservation practices to reduce runoff, erosion, soil degradation and encourage infiltration of water into the soil.
    • Establish riparian buffers, filter strips, grassed waterways, and other types of conservation buffers near streams and other sources of water.
    • Use conservation practices such as crop rotation, contoured row crops, terracing, windbreaks, etc.

If irrigation systems are currently used.

  • Select irrigation systems that will minimize loss of water by evaporation, percolation, and runoff.
  • Make your existing irrigation system more efficient and easier to maintain.
  • Build a water storage system that holds water for use during irrigation season.
  • Install measuring devices that keep track of water use.
  • Identify alternate water sources (e.g., springs, deep wells).

If irrigation systems are currently used.

  • Weeds, like other plants, consume large quantities of water. Competition for water can lead to reduced crop production.
  • Lack of water can lead to reduced herbicide effectiveness as the efficacy of most herbicides depends on water.
  • Mechanical weed control measures may be needed.

After a Drought

Have your soil tested.

Herbicide and fertilizer carry over may occur, so soil testing is very important following a drought year.

  • If you plan to feed drought damaged crops (e.g., feed, forages) to livestock, be aware of these issues:
    • Drought conditions can reduce the nutritional quality of forages and lower forage succulence (and protein content).
    • Dry forages are harder to digest.
    • Drought conditions increases plant toxicities (e.g., nitrates, mycotoxins).
    • Test harvested feed and forages for nutrient content and potential toxins prior to feeding.

Talk to your County Extension office about drought assistance programs and the enrollment process.

Additional Resources

Determine the Risk of Drought In Your Area

U.S. Drought Monitor
Website providing drought condition maps and information for the U.S.
National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
Map of drought tendency and forecast for the U.S.
National Weather Service (NOAA NWS)

Preparing Your Farm Before a Drought

Drought Preparedness and Response: Strategies for Farmers
Factsheet discussing strategies and actions for farmers to take before and after a drought.
University of Wisconsin Extension
Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch
Guide to help rangeland managers better prepare for and manage drought situations.
National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska
Prepare Your Farm or Ranch Before Drought Strikes
Information on preparing a farm or ranch for a drought. Ideas on water, land and crop management.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Write a Drought Plan

National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska

Handling Crops During a Drought Situation

Alternative Crops During a Drought: Meeting Forage and Grain Needs in an Emergency
Factsheet discussing alternative forages and ways to reduce the risk of drought stress in crops.
University of Wisconsin Extension
Drought-Stressed Corn
Factsheet to help producers identify drought stressed corn and discusses several options for harvest.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension
Irrigation During a Drought: Considerations for Non-Irrigating Farmers
Factsheet discussing considerations for irrigation during a drought.
University of Wisconsin Extension
Tillage During a Drought: What to Do - and Not Do - When Soils are Dry
Factsheet with general considerations for crops during drought situations.
University of Wisconsin Extension
Weed Management During a Drought: Herbicide Effectiveness and Mechanical Measures
Factsheet discussing soil applied herbicides, rotary hoeing and cultivation considerations during a drought.
University of Wisconsin Extension

Crop Concerns After a Drought Situation

Fertilizer Application After a Drought: Considerations For This Year and Next
Factsheet discussing fertilizing considerations after drought situations.
University of Wisconsin Extension
Herbicide Concerns After a Drought: Accounting for Carryover in Next Year's Crops
Factsheet discussing herbicide carryover levels, avoiding residue problems, and testing for carryover.
University of Wisconsin Extension
Nitrate Toxicity
Factsheet on the nitrate accumulation in plants during drought conditions and precautions to take before feeding to livestock.
Iowa Beef Center, Iowa State University