Drought -- a chronic shortage of water or rain, sometimes lasting for years -- is a unique type of agricultural disaster. It advances very slowly, over months or years, rather than days or minutes. While a drought can ruin crops, and thereby ruining an agricultural operation's bottom line, the farm's infrastructure and buildings remain intact and the physical safety of the family is not in doubt.
However, droughts have been causing devastation since people first tended crops. Genesis goes into great detail on the Egyptian drought and subsequent famine in the time of Jacob and Joseph. In 2000, agriculture officials are predicting severe droughts in a wide-swath of the southern Midwestern U.S.
A few of the effects of drought are:
Pasture grasses may be damaged or killed due to lack of water, necessitating feed of cut forage -- which is ususally saved as food for the winter -- to be fed early. This, when coupled with the death and poor harvest of forage for the winter‹can lead to inadequate amounts of food for livestock.
Livestock may be sold by producers who believe that their forages will be inadequate for their animals throught the winter. Drought-stricken producers flood markets with an excess of livestock. Consequently, the law of supply and demand -- which dictates that an excess of supply lowers the price of any commodity -- means loss of income for the farmer.
The heat that accompanies a drought stresses both crops and animals. This stress can compromise the health of these living things, causing disease, parasite, and insect problems. The heat alone is responsible for widespread death of dairy cows and poultry, which need cool temperatures.
Natural water sources dry up, causing the farmer to truck in water for his livestock. In addition, rural communities lack public water supplies and sewage systems. Every family that digs and maintains a well is concerned that it may run short in a drought.
Plants and animals in the natural environment also experience damage and death. In addition, there is additonal possibility of brush and forest fires especially in forested areas, orchards or nursery operations.
In the long term, financial problems loom for the producer who may have experienced crop loss, death of livestock and loss of income from low market pricing.
For more information on droughts check this Web site:
The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska is a good source of information about the impact of drought on family scale farmers.
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