Cattle farmers in the Central Alberta region are preparing for drought conditions this season.   

The impacts of dry conditions from last year have carried over this year and are still affecting the soil.   

“We need a lot of precipitation in all forms to remove the soil deficit for moisture,” Research scientist, who specializes in beef production systems at the Lacombe Research and Development Centre Dr. Hushton Block said. “We depend on the accumulation of snow melt in the spring to provide, in essence, a glass of water to help carry through the growing season.”  

A dry season impacts cattle farmers by limiting the amount of forage that crops produce, resulting in a feed shortage.   

“It tends to be issues of temperature and moisture that limit growth, and if we don't have enough moisture, you don't get the same level of growth . When farmers are dealing with drought and they're overgrazing pastures, they're reducing the future potential of those pastures to produce,” Block said. “In a pasture-type setting, pastures will get overgrazed to the point where cattle don’t have enough nutrition.” 

For every day of grazing too early in the spring before plants have had enough time to grow and develop leaf tissues, will end up costing about two days of grazing later in the growing season.   

Block explained that farmers should already be preparing for drought conditions.  

“I very much think they should be preparing. This is something that happens and it happens on a regular basis,” Block said. “Being prepared for it doesn't mean that you enact your plan today, but it means you have one.” 

When in a drought, cattle requiring feeding over what’s available is not sustainable, he added.  

Farmers either need to have a plan of how to access additional feed to offset what isn’t available due to drought, or plan to reduce cattle numbers to match the requirements for feed to what is being produced.   

“It generally seems that if you can predict it well, the sooner you respond to the development of a drought, the less response you have to make,” Block said. “If you're responding very early, you have more risk of being wrong about whether this is going to happen or not.”