Researchers in the Northern Plains have been studying different ways of managing rangelands during drought -- including matching forage demand with forage production through adaptive management. Here is a summary of on-going research into adaptive management.
Adaptive Management for Drought on Rangelands
Summary by Dr. Justin Derner, USDA-ARS:
Adaptive management can be used to manage complexity, such as how to match forage production variability across years and within portions on a grazing season with animal demand through management flexibility. Adaptive management strategies should incorporate flexibility and feedback mechanisms informed by appropriate seasonal weather variables and monitoring metrics to both increase resiliency of rangeland ecosystems and reduce risk for the ranching enterprise associated with drought. For management flexibility, we provide four general strategies that ranchers can use to deal with drought: 1) predict it using weather and climate forecasting tools, 2) track it, 3) employ conservative stocking rates, and 4) utilize inherent spatial variability. Ranchers typically utilize a combination of all these strategies, as each involves inherent limitations or costs. Adaptive grazing management plans that seek to integrate drought prediction tools, conservative but flexible stocking, and existing and predicted spatial heterogeneity in forage quantity and quality can be incorporated into conservation practices such as the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Practice Standard 528 - Prescribed Grazing for implementation on private lands, and allotment management plans (AMPs) by the Forest Service (FS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where spatial heterogeneity in forage resources within and among allotments is often not explicitly monitored or considered when planning livestock movements.
J. D. Derner and D. J. Augustine. 2016. Adaptive management for drought on rangelands. Rangelands 211-215.
Flexible Stocking Summit
By Dr. Hailey Wilmer, USDA-ARS NPCH:
The Flexible Stocking Summit brought ranchers together from eastern Wyoming and Colorado, alongside USDA researchers and University Extension professionals. Summit participants shared and discussed their experiences using stockers (yearlings) to increase flexibility on their cattle operations. The summit fostered a collaborative approach to identifying successful (and not-so-successful) adaptive strategies for ranchers who face highly variable and uncertain livestock/rangeland management conditions. Click here to learn more about the Flexible Stocking Summit and to read the 2-page report.
In the News
By Troy Smith - Angus Journal May 5, 2017:
According to conventional wisdom, managers of grazing lands should err on the side of conservatism. Many also find comfort in applying some kind of formula for determining stocking rate. Range Scientist Justin Derner thinks that's why so many managers stock their ranges and pastures according to what he calls a "traditional" method.
"They want to use a moderate stocking rate -- the old take half, leave half approach. So they plan to use 50% of their average annual forage production, and that works about a third of the time," explains the Cheyenne, Wyo., based researcher for the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
According to Derner, the problem with always stocking grazing lands on the basis of average forage production is that so few years actually match the average. When growing conditions are most favorable -- plenty of timely precipitation -- forage production is higher. When rainfall amounts are low or not timely, forage production will be less than average. Few people complain about abundance, but a drought-induced scarcity of forage can force a manger to make hard decisions.
Click here to read the entire article Adaptive Management by Troy Smith - Angus Journal