THE REAL TEST
“For eight years dust blew on the southern plains. It came in a yellowish-brown haze from the South and in rolling walls of black from the North. The simplest acts of life — breathing, eating a meal, taking a walk — were no longer simple. Children wore dust masks to and from school, women hung wet sheets over windows in a futile attempt to stop the dirt, farmers watched helplessly as their crops blew away.
“Poor agricultural practices and years of sustained drought caused the Dust Bowl. Plains grasslands had been deeply plowed and planted to wheat. During the years when there was adequate rainfall, the land produced bountiful crops. But as the droughts of the early 1930s deepened, the farmers kept plowing and planting and nothing would grow. The ground cover that held the soil in place was gone. The Plains winds whipped across the fields raising billowing clouds of dust to the skys. The skys could darken for days, and even the most well sealed homes could have a thick layer of dust on furniture. In some places the dust would drift like snow, covering farmsteads.” Quoted from Modern American Poetry: About the Dust Bowl at www.english.illinois.edu/maps/depression/dustbowl.htm.
We need wordsmiths to show the reality of what, for most of us, is just history. After the disaster of the Dust Bowl, good soil and adequate water supplies gained importance as a natural resource that we need to preserve and protect.
“Farmers have transformed from plowing fields 8 to 11 inches deep to ‘no-till’ or ‘conservation tillage’ practices designed to minimally disturb the ground. That exposes the soil to less wind erosion, preserves natural nutrients, and captures and retains what moisture does fall.
“Seed companies have built drought, disease- and insect-resistance into plants. That not only helps crops resist extreme weather and pests but also requires fewer tractor passes through fields, lowering production costs and leaving the ground less packed and less likely to let moisture run off.”
New technology allows farmers to “use GPS and radio signals to put tractors and combines on autopilot and tailor planting, fertilizing, and insect-control to specific strengths and needs of the soil. This allows plant to better withstand severe conditions.” Chuck Raasch in USA Today, August 8, 2012.
Since their creation following the Dust Bowl Days, NRCS and SWCD -- providing education and technical assistance – have led the way in getting conservation practices established on our country’s farm and grazing lands. The 1985 Farm Bill Programs and subsequent Farm Bills have provided incentives for landowners/producers to voluntarily apply approved soil and water management practices.
This year’s drought is the real test of how well we protect our farmland. Investments in soil and water conservation, plant research, and technology appear to have kept at bay a 1930’s Dust Bowl.
Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 08/229/12 (for publication on 09/01/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org