Benefit/Cost Ratios for Snow Management Techniques on Dryland Agricultural Lands

TitleBenefit/Cost Ratios for Snow Management Techniques on Dryland Agricultural Lands
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Conference2021
AuthorsSteppuhn, H., and Zentner R.P.
Conference Name88th Annual Western Snow Conference
Conference LocationBozeman, MT
Keywordsbenefit/cost ratio, dryland agriculture, grazing livestock, hay crop, snow management

At least a third of the land covered by winter-accumulated snow across western North America between the 40th and 60th latitudes includes agricultural fields and livestock ranges. Snow-covers on these lands constitute a valuable natural resource available for management to increase dryland crop growth and commodity production. Managing the deposition of snows complements most cropping systems very well. Snow-covers insulate, protect, and provide water for overwintering and spring-seeded crops against freezing temperatures, damaging winds, and drought. The basic objective in designing techniques for utilizing more of the snow available is to provide snow-retention capacity equal to the expected delivery of snow to the field or rangeland being managed.

The benefit/cost ratios associated with snow management vary with the technique. They depend on many factors: initial costs, amortization life, snow-cover accumulations and storage capacities, winter temperatures, melt water captures, historic annual soil recharges from snow, crop choices and yields, weather-related demands, annual commodity returns, producer tolerances of inconveniences, field implement availability, etc. For annual cropping of cereal grains on the Canadian Prairies, one study reported estimated benefit/cost ratios ranging from 0.70 for field fencing to 68.0 for crop stubble height increases with ample snow and from 0.01 to 6.40 with scant snow, respectively. The costs for many techniques are so low that snow management can be practiced for 3, 4, or so years in sequence before costs, including interest, start outweighing benefits from one good snow year.