Another Dust Bowl?
I’m fairly certain that anyone who’s involved in agriculture has heard of the Dust Bowl. Next week, April 14th, marks the 82nd anniversary of “Black Sunday”. The Dust Bowl began as the rain ended in the summer of 1931 and continued for nearly a decade. I found the video below, and didn’t think I would watch the entire presentation because it was 50 minutes long, but once I started I couldn’t stop until the very end. To see the pictures and hear the personal accounts is heart-wrenching education that we all need to review each and every year. This period of time was marked with some remarkable activity:
- “Black blizzards” – the blowing dirt so thick it turned day into night
- The consideration of suicide because it was believed the end of the world was near
- Static electricity in the air that killed crops
- Clubbing to death thousands of jackrabbits as they came from the north desperately searching for food
- Illness called dust pneumonia because of dirt that got into peoples’ eyes, ears, nose and throat
- Experimentation with explosives in an attempt to make it rain
But there were positives that emerged as well: (The government) recognizing the importance of supporting farmers because ensuring their success meant success for everyone, and the need for soil conservation which resulted in innovations in farming equipment and practices.
So could something like this ever happen again? We’d like to think that it wouldn’t, because after all, we’re a lot smarter and technologically advanced than we were 85 years ago. But there’s a new study from researchers at the University of Chicago who think we could be wrong. They simulated a Dust Bowl-style drought on modern crops so they could analyze the results and found some disturbing information. These researchers estimate that yield losses would be approximately 50% worse than during the drought of 2012, and calculated that yields would decrease by another 25% for every degree (Celsius) the temperature rises.
These are bankruptcy and starvation percentages.
So the question is “Why?” In this day and age the continued susceptibility of crops to drought is simply because most popular modern seeds aren’t designed to withstand extreme dry spells, but to increase yield. Fortunately there are farmers and scientists who are looking into species and varieties that can handle low precipitation and high heat, and while this isn’t the norm, these researchers propose that maybe it should be.
My father who was born in 1922, experienced this historic drought as a young farm boy, but he never talked about it a whole lot. And as the generations that lived through this event disappear and society moves further away from that reality, I can only hope that the lessons it provided live forever.
-Terry Olson, Titan Outlet Store Team