Drought Proofing Farms, Ranches and Habitats

In most landmasses of the planet, especially a climatically cantankerous continent such as North America, aridity and drought cycles are a fact of life. The good news just so happens to be: that our farms and ranches can be drought-proofed with effective planning and mitigation strategies. Nature sets the example with all manner of brilliant water-saving techniques/technology and intelligent agriculturists will mimic nature’s proven patterns.  Integrating a combination of cultural techniques, infrastructure development and species selection is the pathway to thriving success in the face of drying adversity and un-relenting heat.
The first order of business is choosing appropriate plant species.  Perennials are generally more drought forgiving than annual plants since they possess permanent root systems which take root deeply and often have specialized moisture storage organs adapted to surviving in dry conditions.  Native prairie grasslands developed as the most successful ecosystem in central North America for a reason, they bounce back quickly despite what erratic changes the climate throws out.  Prickly pear cactus remains moist and viable as a succulent, even in the throes of deep drought if only it weren’t for those pernicious thorns.  Planting hedgerows of thornless prickly pear is like drought insurance forage for the worst of times.  Employing browsable tree species with agro-forestry techniques provide useable forage in dry periods.  Some trees such, as mesquite, laugh at drought and are hated by many for their ability to thrive in arid environments.  One mesquite species, the Tamarugo, is one of the few plants which can survive the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth!  Of course mesquite beans are highly palatable and nutritious and happen to fruit in the peak of summer when needed most.  Truly a curse that is the cure if one drops their prejudice.
Forward stockpiling of forage is a dependable management technique most often accomplished by baling hay but can also include silage clamps and intensively grazing less desirable forages.  Reducing tillage and maintaining permanent mulch or living cover on the soil surface is mandatory. Deep chiseling to infiltrate water into the soil profile is an excellent practice.  Light discing and over-seeding with specialized annual plants are much preferred to heavy-metal plowing and soil churning.  Increasing the organic matter and carbon content of the soil improves the water and nutrient holding capacity of the land.
At the time of the dust bowl era, agricultural terraces were very common to manage water and erosion. A man by the name of P.A. Yeomans in Australia developed Keyline design which consists of watershed management by high-damming water and strategic water conveyance via swales, check dams and specialized plowing to infiltrate massive amounts of water into the vadose-zone of the soil to be available to crops in the dry season. After all, 80% of rain in most arid regions tends to fall abundantly in a narrow window of time, so it behooves us to have infrastructure in place to capture as much as possible and keep it in use on our land as long as possible.  This is very similar to the traditional Hawaiian Ahupua’a-agricultural watershed management systems.  There, watersheds were maintained by families. If a family’s food production system failed due to mismanagement of their watershed, it was taboo to request food from the extended community.  At one time, perhaps 200 million beavers spent their lives building countless dams over every watercourse in North America which spread the water beyond the banks and hydrated the land, thereby creating rich, fertile and abundant habitat for all other species including, but not limited to: grass & bison.
Water scarcity is fast becoming a big issue of civilization. Water wars will set future policies and change everyone’s lives.  Are you drought-proof?
By: Ben Tyler