Drought is a dirty word around these parts. But luckily, it is something most of us in the southern Great Plains have not had to endure this year. In Oklahoma, statistics say a drought occurs every four years, on average. Of course, that could be four years in a row followed by several years of decent rainfall distribution, but who is to say when it will happen? Livestock producers can lose many dollars every year in this country due to keeping cattle on sun-dried, overgrazed pastures, compounded by regional devaluation of beef due to high numbers of cattle hitting the sale barns at the same time. To help reduce the impact drought can have on producers, the Noble Research Institute is working on a project with the Ranching Systems Group in the Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management at Texas A&M University. The project is called the Livestock Early Warning System (LEWS). The results of the project will be a system that can forecast probable forage growth conditions over a maximum of 90 days in the future. Central to this effort is a combination of technologies that Texas A&M has used successfully in several regions of Texas and Africa.
Basically, ground-verified plant community and soil conditions are fed into a plant growth model, and then results are measured against satellite information, which senses the greenness of the vegetation. This information is then stacked up against long-term weather data, and a list of forage production probabilities is created. This is a very rudimentary synopsis of the system, as the entire process is very sophisticated. Over the last two years, forage specialists here at the Noble Research Institute have been collaborating with Dr. Jerry Stuth and his staff at Texas A&M to develop eight stations across our consultation service area to measure the effectiveness of this system. Three of the stations are on Noble Research Institute properties, and the other five are on the land of Noble Research Institute Agricultural Division cooperators. The five participants were selected based on geographic distribution, soil and forage type and their demonstrated willingness to help us implement this system. Noble Research Institute agriculture consultants will use information such as that depicted in Figure 1 to advise the five participating cooperators of predicted forage conditions on their properties. If drought conditions are forecast, Agricultural Division consultants may suggest culling protocols or marketing measures to reduce monetary losses and avoid over-grazing pastures.
By spring 2005, we are projected to have such information on our Web site (see Figure 2), so that Noble Research Institute consulting teams can use it to help other cooperators in the area surrounding the stations make management decisions. Other benefits will be realized, such as decision support information for producers who are not Noble Research Institute cooperators and educational opportunities.
The preliminary information we have received from Texas A&M has been very accurate. We look forward to using this technology to help our cooperators and other producers in southern Oklahoma and north Texas avoid the problems that drought can bring.