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John W. Boyd Jr.

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Worst Drought Since the Dust Bowl

Posted: 07/19/2012 9:11 am

"July 15: 102 degrees. Corn and everything is mostly discussed . . . It is really too hot, dry, discouraging and devilish to do anything. . ."

"July 21: I have seen a good many bad years in this country . . . but I never saw any worse than this one. Corn is practically all destroyed now, pastures are as bare as January."


Nebraska farmer Don Hartwell wrote these despairing words in 1936. It was the darkest hour of the twin tortures of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, as author Timothy Egan noted in his book, The Worst Hard Time.

Now, the long dry season of 2012 has struck American farmers with a drought that threatens to surpass those "devilish" times. Once again the effects of extreme weather conditions are compounded by a hurting economy.

Corn crops are suffering. Many farmers will not produce the yields they have in past production years. And too many will not survive to plant another crop. Minority-owned farms, usually the most precarious in their operations, will be especially hard hit.

Most farmers rely on farm subsidies or federal crop insurance to cover crop losses. Many black farmers and other small producers cannot afford federal crop insurance premiums. They are just too expensive.

The least financially secure farmers are faced with the bottom line just like any other business: "Do I purchase federal crop insurance or do I purchase the high-cost corn and soybean seeds to plant my crops?" I can tell you from personal experience that farmers like me will purchase the seed every time.

This year's drought seems to be different than those of the past. Many states have experienced record numbers of 100-plus degree temperatures for weeks at a time. No crop can withstand such temperatures without rain.

Some states like Wisconsin have not had a drop of rain for 55 days. So even if it rains today, most of the crop damage is already done. When corn begins to make (meaning that the ear of corn begins to form), water is absolutely required, whether from rain or irrigation.

What does this mean for the average consumer? It means higher food prices in the grocery store. Corn is used in so many products from corn syrup to breakfast cereal, and industrial products. This prolonged arid spell will affect fruits and vegetables as well.

On a national scale we are faced with an estimated $100 billion in losses which means another blow to our already weak economy.

For me this year's drought is personal. Dry pastures, loss of hay, livestock suffering in the heat -- these are some of the hardships on my farm. And we face the certainty that corn and soybean production will be greatly reduced.

At the same time, there is opportunity amidst these disastrous times. Here is a chance for food superpowers such as Monsanto and other food industry giants who are clearly thriving off the backs of American farmers to give back and support those who have made their companies successful.

We also will need the support of state and federal governments to do their part.

We all can learn something from this drought. That is that no matter how much technological advancement we have made, no matter how far we think we have progressed, we are always at the mercy of nature.

We still can't make it rain.

 
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