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Updated 29 Feb 2020

How to drought-proof your farm

The 2015/2016 drought has brought about serious losses for farmers. Poor planting and harvesting seasons have brought with them lessons on how to be better prepared for when the next drought occurs. 

Catherine Bristow, 21 March 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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A key lesson emerged from the current drought season: How prepared were you to handle the effects of a drought? As climate change continues to affect the weather and irregular weather patterns occur, farmers are assured that droughts and extreme weather conditions will happen more frequently. It is all the more important to have strategies in place to mitigate the risks.

One such strategy that you should be looking at implementing is a farm-resiliency plan. This plan details your use of water, the crops you plant and your soil and how you can better manage these to sustain you through the tough seasons.

Related: Surviving the drought

Here are some of the elements to consider.

1. No-till farming

Consider implementing No-tilling farming if you haven’t already. No-tilling, or zero-tillage, leaves crop residue on the surface and new crops are planted directly onto the residue of the previous year’s crops. The residue helps to absorb water and limit run-off, preventing the contamination by fertilisers into surrounding water areas. It also reduces the amount of watering required across your crop.

There are other benefits to no-till farming, such as increased quality of the soil. Because the soil is not frequently ploughed there is less disturbance to it, which promotes the biodiversity in the soil. This encourages micro-organisms and earthworms to flourish; key components of healthy soil.

2. Cover cropping

Cover cropping helps build healthier soil. Cover crops are planted in the intervals between the harvesting and planting of your primary crops and are chosen based on their ability to protect and enhance your soil’s health.

Through planting a mix of cover crops, you can enhance soil nutrients and increase water retention. It also better prepares the soil for the next planting season. It is a powerful drought-proofing tool that should be deployed across your farm.

3. Irrigation

Choosing an irrigation system that conserves the most water will assist you to better manage and conserve your water during the dry spells. Research has illustrated that drip tape irrigation can use up to 30 to 50 percent less water than overhead irrigation.

Monitor the watering of your crops and schedule your watering dependent on the needs of your crops. For example, onions require more frequent watering but over shorter durations. It is also a good idea to install measurement devices to track the amount of water you are using.

Related: Drought intervention programme for livestock farmers

Soil Irrigation

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About the author

Catherine Bristow

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