Drought Monitor authors encourage growers’ input

John Ryan, left, of Bella Vista, Calif., talks with Anderson, Calif., ranch owner Arleigh Oliver before they watched a University of California drought webcast Nov. 7 in Palo Cedro, Calif. The webcast included information about how the federal drought monitor maps are maintained.

Authors of the federal Drought Monitor are encouraging growers to send emails or join reporting teams to help make their maps more accurate.

The 15-year-old monitor analyzes weather data and on-the-ground reports from hundreds of observers to develop the weekly drought maps, which can affect growers’ disaster-relief payments, taxes and insurance rates.

“Our process is open and transparent,” said Mark Svoboda, a program leader for the Lincoln, Neb.-based National Drought Mitigation Center. “We welcome emails ... We’re not trying to hide behind a big curtain.”

There are several ways in which growers can give input for use on the drought maps, Svoboda and other officials said during a University of California drought workshop. The seminar was held Nov. 7 at UC-Davis and webcast to 22 other sites throughout the state.

In addition to sending emails, people can talk to their state climatologist, who can forward the information to the authors. In addition, they can join a network of observers who submit regular reports or can submit reports and photos to the Drought Impact Reporter at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs urges farmers and others to include anecdotes and historical perspective in their reports, such as instances of wild animals roaming into neighborhoods looking for water.

“When you’re having a drought, the impacts can tell us as much as the data, and we really need to hear about it,” Fuchs said.

The workshop, which was partly sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association, was put together after some ranchers questioned whether the U.S. Drought Monitor maps were up to date or accurately reflected where the drought was most severe.

The level of severity shown on the maps can impact disaster relief payments, particularly under the Livestock Forage Program, which compensates ranchers for grazing losses, CCA vice president of government relations Justin Oldfield has said.

It can also impact ranchers’ ability to defer capital gains taxes when they sell livestock because of drought, according to Oldfield. And they can impact the insurance that landowners buy for rangelands, said Glenn Nader, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor.

“What is this about? It’s about money, which always draws your attention,” Nader said. “You really need to be involved in making sure the information that’s put in there is correct.”

Brad Rippey, a U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist who also works on the monitor, said the authors may have underestimated the drought’s impacts on California rangelands last year. Rangelands were in worse condition in 2013 than this year because of the timing of precipitation, he said.

But the authors weren’t involved when the Drought Monitor was linked to assistance programs in the last two Farm Bills, they said.

“Everyone has their own definition of drought,” Svoboda said. “Let’s come up with a way to account for that.”

Arleigh Oliver of Anderson, Calif., who leases land to ranchers, said in an interview he hasn’t questioned the monitor’s accuracy.

“I check it here and there,” he said. “I’ve got ranchland in Arizona and it’s considerably worse down there than it is here. Any information is valuable.”

To get involved

Growers who wish to provide input to the U.S. Drought Monitor can do so in the following ways:

Email droughtmonitor@unl.edu

Use the contact form on drought.gov

Sign up to be a regular observer at www.cocorahs.org

Submit reports and photos to http://droughtreporter.unl.edu

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