Ecocentric

Rising Temperatures and Drought Create Fears of a New Dust Bowl

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MCT via Getty Images

A stunted field in Kansas, where drought and brutally high temperatures are killing the corn crop

Triple-digit days. Weeks with little to no rain. Soil crumbling away. Stunted corn stalks. Right now the fertile fields of the U.S. Midwest are experiencing corn-killing weather, with parts of five corn-growing states in the region experiencing severe or extreme drought. In at least nine states, one-fifth to one-half of cornfields are currently in poor or very poor conditions. And all of this comes after earlier expectations that corn farmers were going to produce a bumper crop this season, with 40 million hectares planted — the largest corn area in 75 years. Instead, we could see that crops wilt, as Darrel L. Good — a professor emeritus of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — told the New York Times:

What we know is this: there’s been some permanent and substantive yield reduction already, and we’re on the cusp, depending on the weather, of taking that down quite a bit more.

(MORE: The Weather Really Is Getting Weirder)

So terrible is the weather in the heartland that farmers have begun to compare it to the drought of 1988, which wiped out millions of hectares of corn and caused $78 billion in crop damage, or even worse, the great Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. Already, stockpiles of corn have fallen by 48% from March to June, the biggest drop since 1996 — and that was before the drought and the brutally hot weather began in earnest. The percentage of the corn crop with top-quality ratings was 48% as of July 1, compared with 69% a year ago.

Whether 2012 goes down as just an off year for corn crops or a truly historic disaster will depend on the next couple of weeks. The pollination phase is imminent for corn plants in much of the country. That’s the period when ears of kernel-filled corn should be appearing on the plants. But drought and extreme heat can wither and stress corn plants, stunting their growth — or even preventing pollination altogether.

So far the summer of 2012 is still a long way from the terrible Dust Bowl conditions that remade American agriculture and resulted in an immense internal migration in the U.S., with Okies and the like heading west. Irrigation is far more common now than it was in the 1930s, and many farmers have drought insurance and other economic policies that will protect them — and keep them farming — in the event of a catastrophe. But the terrible heat toasting the Midwest this summer — 107ºF (42ºC) in Evansville, Ind. — is likely just a coming attraction for the extreme weather we’ll see in the near future, thanks to global warming. One of the most important questions scientists are trying to answer is just what impact the higher temperatures and drier weather, caused by climate change, will have on agriculture in America’s breadbasket. If the corn crop withers this summer, consider it a bad sign for the hotter days to come.

PHOTOS: Severe Drought in Texas

46 comments
HeatherAgain
HeatherAgain

Does Congress share some of the blame for not renewing contracts with farmers to grow grass instead of plowing - esp. with global warming/climate change?

2Fruitans
2Fruitans

I'm sure global warming/climate change is real. I am not a denier.

But I do have to point out that the photo chosen to illustrate this story isn't of a field blighted by drought. Those are the stobs left after last year's crop was harvested and the field was subsequently mowed to make silage.

duststorm
duststorm

The Lord blessed us with that fertile midwest soil that we have poisoned with pesticides and herbicides in a greedy grab for max yield. The President from Chicago has embraced the  abomination of homosexuality and we still expect God to bless us.  Drought, hurricanes, catastrophic windstorms, when will we turn from our wicked ways?

Peter Mizla
Peter Mizla

Not every year will be as extreme as the last few in the lower Great Plains- however as temperatures approach 1 degree C  above the PI level (they are now near 0.8)  in time the entire region will revert back permanently to what it was last time temps where this high- 125,000 years ago in the Eemian interglacial.

Jonathan Geurts
Jonathan Geurts

Yes, the yield has been predicted to be bad this year; and yes, when plants die soil tends to blow.  

But please don't take a photo of cut-off corn stubble and call it a field of stunted plants.

Gerard Heck
Gerard Heck

We have enjoyed bumper crops for quite a few years.  This drought may be caused partially by global warming and partly by natural cycles.  Combine the two and it may increase the severity of the event.  We've had droughts before and it has been very hot before.  Even temperatures just as high as this summer.  As  a child I remember 108-110 degree temperatures on our farm.  The drought of 1959 comes to mind.  Dad's corn got knee high and that was it.  Had to buy hay and later planted Sudan grass when it started to rain again for supplemental forage to feed the cattle.  There have been other dry years since.  The problem is no one saves up for the bad times anymore.  Complacency becomes the norm and here we go again.  We spend our excess for things we don't need and when bad times hit our wealth is invested in worthless items that cannot sustain life.  Here's a weather forecast sure to be accurate...."It is always dry after a wet spell and it is always wet after a dry spell."    

Namec Nassianer
Namec Nassianer

I'm a wondering if some of these card-carrying Republican farmers are starting to consider whether climate change (global warming) could perhaps be a reality.

Or are they just going to blame the drought on Obama?

Harry Kuheim
Harry Kuheim

I wonder how SUVs cause the 1930's Dust Bowl?

Jess
Jess

Meat , dairy, cars, trucks and heating amp; cooling houses create the most CO2.  American are teaching the world to be lazy worthless f-cks.   98% of the earths species are extinct- human extinction is inevitable, you can only slow it. 

ewell247
ewell247

Here's a thought.  There are too many people on the planet. The effect of those people and their efforts are changing the climate.  If the climate changes we won't be able to grow enough food to feed all those people. The population of the planet will decrease until it reaches the level that the new climate can support. Regardless of the problem, Mother Nature will have a solution.  We may not like it, but we had our chance. I don't believe it is possible for a planet full of human beings such as we are to regulate our activities (reproduction, natural resource consumption, etc.) in a responsible way.  There is no historical evidence to indicate otherwise.

jaykimball
jaykimball

Shilong Piao of the Center of Climate Research at Beijing University has published a paper in Nature, reported on by Reuters:  "With the climate set to get warmer from greenhouse gases, Chinese scientists predicted on Thursday that freshwater for agriculture will shrink further in China, reducing crop yields in the years ahead."This story illustrates the typical cause and effect unfolding round the world as the world grows warmer. Food production will be challenged by water scarcity, warmer climate fostering crop pests, and reduced protein in plants.

Article here: http://8020vision.com/2010/09/...

Last week, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, acknowleded anthropogenic climate change. I wonder if Exxon is still funding the climate denier front-groups?Will Exxon help pay for repairing the world, as the Tobacco industry was forced to do, by states that sued to recover healthcare costs?Will they support a carbon tax designed to help reduce CO2 emissions and fund mitigation and adaptation initiatives?Will they help pay farmers for crop loss?Jay Kimball8020 Vision

jaykimball
jaykimball

Shilong Piao of the Center of Climate Research at Beijing University has published a paper in Nature.  He said: "With the climate set to get warmer from greenhouse gases, Chinese scientists predicted on Thursday that freshwater for agriculture will shrink further in China, reducing crop yields in the years ahead."

This story illustrates the typical cause and effect unfolding round the world as the world grows warmer. Food production will be challenged by water scarcity, warmer climate fostering crop pests, and reduced protein in plants.

See: http://8020vision.com/2010/09/...