Friday, December 26, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

California ranchers anticipate devastating drought impacts, study finds

By
From page A1 | January 28, 2014 |

ranchlandW

A lone blade of green grass suggests that drought is upon the rangeland, where ranchers fear a lack of water and forage. Tracy Schohr, UC Davis/Courtesy photo

By Brad Hooker

As California braces for record drought, ranchers are among the most immediately impacted, and most say they are not ready for the severe water shortages and lack of forage that drought would bring, according to a new study by researchers at UC Davis.

A statewide survey and follow-up interviews by the research team document a deep and growing concern over the severe conditions facing the ranching community. More than one-third of interviewed ranchers expect devastating impacts to their operations if drought conditions persist.

UCD postdoctoral researcher Leslie Roche and colleagues surveyed 511 ranchers across the state about their management decisions, including how they respond to drought. She is following up the survey with in-depth interviews to dig deeper into the specific factors affecting each ranching family and, so far, has met in person with more than 60 ranchers across California.

“Last year’s drought has really been on a lot of people’s minds,” Roche said. “But because this winter drought has hit so hard, it’s an extremely prominent concern among ranchers right now.”

She noted that ranching is often the sector of California agriculture that is most vulnerable to drought because it depends on rain-fed systems, rather than stored water or groundwater.

In 2013, California experienced its driest year on record, and the state’s current snowpack is just 17 percent of average. As a result, the state government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have declared drought emergencies for California.

A statewide drought, such as the one that occurred from 1976 to 1977, would today exacerbate the effects of earlier regional droughts, according to many of the ranchers who responded to the UCD survey. With already conservative numbers of cattle in their herds, ranchers must now consider culling their herds to stay afloat as production costs rise.

California ranchers are accustomed to surviving drought. With a Mediterranean climate, drought conditions occur for about four months every year during the summer dry season. The last two winter wet seasons, however, have been below normal, forcing many ranchers to already implement drought plans. Most ranchers interviewed said that three to four of the last 10 years have been in drought. When asked if they consider themselves adaptive managers, almost all said, “you have to be.”

“Multi-generation ranchers, who have been viable in this state for a long time, have a lot to tell us from their own experience,” said Ken Tate, a plant sciences professor and a Cooperative Extension rangeland watershed specialist, who is working with Roche.

“They have to have flexibility and options in order to adapt,” Tate said. “Those who have less flexibility — fewer types of forage, fewer places to go with cattle — tend to be the ones having a harder time adapting to drought because their ‘toolbox’ is smaller.”

The UCD research team discovered that 99 percent of the ranchers surveyed depend on other ranchers as a trusted source of information. The team’s participatory research is tapping into that knowledge and experience so that it can be shared widely to the benefit of other ranchers, as well as policymakers and researchers.

The survey is connecting campus directly to ranchers, opening up a wealth of research opportunities that will shed light on what management practices under what conditions work best for California ranchers. Through this study, state and federal resource-management agencies and drought-assistance programs are gaining a better understanding of what drought and other important issues mean to the ranching industry.

Information on how ranchers are dealing with the drought now is giving others in the agriculture industry a comparison of how extensive the drought’s impacts will be for them later.

“Other folks in ag are watching,” Tate said, “because they’re looking to planting time coming up soon for the summer crops, and they don’t know how much water they’re going to get.”

Other researchers involved in the study are Mark Lubell and Tracy Schohr of UCD, Justin Derner of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bethany Cutts of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Lynn Huntsinger of UC Berkeley. The project is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the survey was conducted in partnership with the California Cattlemen’s Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

More information about the survey can be found online at the Rangeland Watershed Laboratory: http://rangelandwatersheds.ucdavis.edu/main/drought.htm.

— UC Davis News

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Transit survey: 47 percent ride bikes to UCD campus

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Exchange students bring the world to Davis

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Pastor has many plans for CA House

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Playing Santa

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Goats help recycle Christmas trees

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Special holiday gifts

    By Sue Cockrell | From Page: A3

    Woodland-Davis commute bus service expands

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Learn fruit tree tips at free class

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Davis Bike Club hears about British cycling tour

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Pick up a Davis map at Chamber office

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Sierra Club calendars on sale Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Explorit: Get a rise out of science

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A4

    NAMI meeting offers family support

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Yoga, chanting intro offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

    .

    Forum

    Blamed for her sister’s rage

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    How much for the calling birds?

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Steve Sack cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

     
    Many ensured a successful parade

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Thanks for putting food on the table

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Sports

     
    Two more for the road for 9-1 Aggie men

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Patterson is college football’s top coach

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Clippers get a win over Golden State

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    NBA roundup: Heat beat Cavs in LeBron’s return to Miami

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    ‘Unbroken': A bit underwhelming

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Folk musicians will jam on Jan. 2

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    .

    Business

    Passat: Roomy, affordable sedan with German engineering

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    James J. Dunning Jr.

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Floyd W. Fenocchio

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, December 26, 2014 (set 2)

    By Creator | From Page: B7

     
    Comics: Thursday, December 26, 2014 (set 1)

    By Creator | From Page: A9