Resources to Navigate Drought Successfully
My well ran dry. My livestock might need hay this winter. The lawn is dying…. What do I do?
By Cathryn Kloetzli, Extension Professional, and Erin Roche, Crop Insurance Education Program Manager, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
As a farmer, gardener or landowner, there are steps and management practices you can implement to reduce or eliminate threats caused by water shortages and damaging weather events. This collection of resources has been gathered for you to successfully navigate the impacts caused by drought.
Drought happens so rarely in Maine. Why bother with any of this?
While the cost to implement preventative measures is often minimal, the potential loss by not implementing these measures can be great. Although it is uncommon for drought to significantly impact Maine, this does not mean that Maine is immune to water shortages. “A drought from 1999-2002 caused 17,000 private wells to run dry in the 9 months prior to April 2002, and farmers lost more than 32 million dollars in crop production between 2001 and 2002 (1999-2002 USGS report, “Drought Conditions in Maine, 1999-2002: A Historical Perspective” (Lombard, 2002))”.
The resources below provide several low-cost, simple to implement measures that every business and home can take to help lessen or avoid the impact of drought. Take the opportunity to protect, and even enhance, your investments — often just by planning ahead.
How do I monitor Maine’s drought status?
- The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) (developed primarily for agriculture purposes) provides a PDSI Map.
- Northeast Drought offers weekly updates of current conditions and impacts.
- U.S. Drought Monitor updates its drought disaster map weekly.
My well ran dry. What do I do?
- Call 2-1-1 to report your dry well. This action allows the state to see how widespread the problem is.
- For moderate water use purposes, consider tapping into local roadside springs. Contact the Drinking Water Program to see if the spring is regulated and tested.
- Contact Licensed Well Drillers and Pump Installers (scroll down to relevant links) to discuss options such as well replacement, or lowering an existing pump deeper into the water table.
- For homeowners — Resources are available to qualifying homeowners: Maine State Housing’s Home Repair Program or USDA’s Single Family Housing Loans and Grants.
We need water for the farm. Where do we turn?
- Check with bulk water haulers or your local fire department to see if they are able to assist you. Use a water storage system, not a well, that protects the water until needed.
- Estimate water use on the farm and at home to gauge how much water you will need to haul in.
- Consider Rainwater Harvesting — from barrels to cisterns.
I don’t have enough hay to feed my livestock due to the drought? What can I do?
- Check the Maine Hay Directory or the national Hay Exchange. Plan for transport costs.
- For a rough approximation on what to pay for hay prices, check out the Hay Report. Scroll down and click on Pennsylvania Weekly Hay Report, which has the closest market information for Maine.
- Do You Have Enough Forage This Year? helps you calculate the amount of forage you need, take stock of how much forage you currently have, and develop a plan going forward.
“Our hay crop is very short. Fields we got 28 round bales off last year we got 7 this year. We usually sell a third of what we put up for hay and this year we’re looking to buy.” — Maine farmer, 2016
My crops/pasture/yard/wildlife didn’t have enough water this year. How can I make sure that doesn’t happen again?
Start now to implement these practices to use your water supply efficiently and avoid future shortages.
- Stretch short water supplies (PDF).
- Prepare your farm before drought strikes.
- Invest in irrigation. For more information, see Small Scale Solutions for Your Farm (PDF) and Irrigation for Fruit and Vegetable Production, which includes a chart of crops’ critical watering times. Trickle irrigation can be useful for home gardens. See Northeast Irrigation Supply and Design for a listing of irrigation providers and products.
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps farmers lessen the impacts of drought through conservation practices such as irrigation pipeline, cover crops, mulching and more.
- For technical and financial assistance, contact your local NRCS office.
- Improve soil health to prevent drought impacts.
- Learn more about the Water Source Development Grant, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agricultural Management Assistance, and Conservation Stewardship Program.
What are some crop-specific techniques I can use to help minimize damage from drought?
- CORN: Transitioning to no-till corn/cover crop system.
- FORAGES: Forage Management in Drought (PDF), includes short- and long-term approaches.
- TURF/LANDSCAPERS: Resources for Landscapers, Keeping Landscape Plants Alive (PDF), and Managing Lawns.
Is crop insurance worth it for Maine farmers? Will it work for us? Where can I learn more?
- Crop insurance protects farmer’s crop yield or revenue from a wide range of adverse weather conditions such as drought, excess moisture, frost, freeze, etc. Failure of irrigation or water supply due to drought is also an insured type of loss.
- The best things farmers can do is be proactive and sign up for crop insurance ahead of time. If you wait until after the loss has occurred, recovery options and coverage are more limited.
- Go here to learn more about crop insurance.
- Crop insurance is purchased through private agents serving Maine. Locate an agent.
- For your questions and general guidance, please contact University of Maine Cooperative Extension Crop Insurance Education Program Manager Erin Roche at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207.949.2490.
- Farmers get a free premium quote from a crop insurance agent or county Farm Service Agency (FSA).
“Crop insurance helps me sleep better at night. The few years it was a real disaster, the money we received certainly helped our bottom line.” — Maine farmer, 2016
What crops are covered by crop insurance policies for weather-related loss?
Most crops grown in Maine are eligible for some type of risk management program coverage through the Federal crop insurance program or the FSA Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). For more information, refer to the resources given in the “Is crop insurance worth it?” question above.
Will there be natural disaster assistance after the drought has occurred?
It depends. Federal farm programs may be available through the FSA to help farmers recover from drought. For example, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm Raised Fish and the Livestock Indemnity Program provide assistance to farmers suffering from grazing and livestock losses. Also, depending on the extent and severity of the drought, assistance to qualifying farmers in the form of low-interest emergency loans may be available. Contact your county FSA office for details.
What else can our farm do to protect itself?
- Fill out a risk management checklist (PDF) or do a SWOT analysis (PDF) to identify areas for improvement.
- Modify your management practices or integrate a new technology.
- Consider purchasing crop insurance to provide additional protection.
- Stay informed about climate and agriculture in Maine, visit the Maine Climate and Ag Network.
Do you have other tips for farmers and gardeners in addressing drought?
If so, please contact Cathryn Kloetzli at email@example.com or 1.800.287.1482 (in Maine).