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

27 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/...

Lori Winston
Lori Winston

Your logic is faulty. You seem to be saying, "It has been hot before and it is hot now, therefore this heat is not a long term problem." This is particularly illogical when scientists (who many are too ignorant to understand) have put forth evidence predicting new long term heat as a problem. This heat just isn't, "Oh gosh dern it all, it been done hot for us here before..." We have record after record and trends we have never seen. 

Yes, indeed, people do not think ahead and are complacent, but try taking it beyond the good old down home way you are applying it and put it to a global scale. We are trashing not just the land, but the air and everything that supports the land. Yes indeed it was wetter after the dust bowl, but how much misery was there during it?

saveEarthDripIrrigate
saveEarthDripIrrigate

 We Americans are both the best and the worst. Many Europeans are right to look down their noses at us, till something (France yesterday, GB a week ago) is disclosed of their own carelessness. We so easily forget how wonderful we have things..till we venture to Malawi or Ethiopia for a month. Our greedy bankers, and their rotten, spoiled heir children driving Escalades make 99% of American's want to puke, or throttle them in their sleep. F-cking Republicans want to disembowel the EPA so they can burn more Earth-smothering coal citing only, "our power plants are already cleaner than those in much of China." WTF does that have to do with anything!

What kills me the most is that so-called Christians go to church every Sunday and pray for the demise of humanity under the illusion of going to heaven. They could care less about how polluted our rivers are because "this is just a temporary home."  They refute the fact that God DID give us a planet that we collectively could decimate and literally melt, burn and suffocate without first trumpets of Isaiah and seven-headed horses. The utter stupidity saying God allowed 9-1-1 as consequence for empowering of gays.

Just know that most farmers are amenable to less environmentally harmful practices, if it can be accomplished economically. Don't demonize them for their choice of livelihood.  Agriculture has saved us and ruined us, our species.  Native American's were right in their approach to leave more than you take and to worship flora and fauna in their midst. Read Howard Zinn's "People's History of the US" for enlightenment. I know Barack has, but I doubt Mitt has.

IonOtter
IonOtter

Actually, it *was* SUVs that caused the dust bowl.  Farm tractors were the Escalade, Hummer, Dakota and F250 of the day, and farmers treated them the same way we treat our luxury monster trucks.  They drove them all over the land, plowing more fields than they'd ever been able to plow before.  Hundreds of thousands of acres of prairie grasslands were ripped up to grow wheat and corn, using techniques that had been used since the Middle Ages.

And all the soil just up and blew away when the drought hit.

We didn't learn about contour plowing, wind breaks, soil conservation, water conservation and other life-saving techniques until AFTER the Great Depression. 

Yes, that's right, Harry.  The Great Communist of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt, FORCED us to suffer under the Department of Agriculture, SHATTERED our hopes and dreams with the Dept of Soil and Water, and SLAUGHTERED our profits with Cooperative Extension Boards in every county in every state.

So sorry for the OTT sarcasm, but you were being so coy, I figured, WTH?

alteclansing182
alteclansing182

Interesting factoid:  5% of the CO2 released is from the pouring of concrete.

IonOtter
IonOtter

 Horsefeathers.

The planet can easily support ten times our current population, and keep us all  healthy, and even happy.

But it would mean giving up the suburbs, moving into high-rise apartments in the city, and spending HUGE amounts of money to reclaim the suburbs back to forest and farmlands, dumping petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, and spending even more gobs of money on alternative energy solutions.  It would also mean paying the REAL price for meat, rather than the govt subsidized prices.

And those are things that nobody wants to do.

GerardHeck
GerardHeck

@Lori Winston Lori, I am only stating what I have witnessed in my past and I agree with climate change.  It is global because of the shrinking of the Arctic Ice Shelf.  Yes, the trend to warmer temperatures is a fact.  Take note I said that part of climate change is man-made and some may be natural too, volcanoes, fires, etc.  I was not addressing global climate change, only what I witnessed locally and pointing out the extravagant spending of farmers who put themselves into non-serviceable debt when extremes disrupt the flow of resources.  Yes, there was alot of misery during the Dust Bowl, my dad told us about it for he lived through it.  It was BAD.  Anyway as I write this reply thank goodness there is alot of rain and snow across the upper plains and most of the rest of the country.  You have a good reply to my post and I think we agree on most all climate subjects but at the same time do not discount "old down home" wisdom for a good share of wisdom comes from surviving bad times and not so much from coasting through good times. 

Mahuika
Mahuika

 Thanks - you saved me having to look it up for myself.

Palladia
Palladia

It may be that the planet can "support" 90 billion people, although I really doubt it.  But is that really what we want?  We'd be constantly on the edge of disaster, and there would be very little room for any sort of error.  You think that the price of meat is subsidized, and I don't consider that it is (I raise beef.)  But it's the energy that would be the real choke  point.  Transportation of ourselves and materials, electricity, and so forth would be a bear.

The true bottom line is, we don't have a spare planet handy should we foul this one up.

There is no population of anything which can reproduce indefinitely without a crash, and we are no exception.

Ruth Raynor
Ruth Raynor

Actually, some of us want to do that. I choose to live in the city in an apartment with no lounge. I hate the suburban wasteland (although I do miss my parents' garden, I like to grow my own food). I don't eat a lot of meat because I can't afford to eat meat that is treated humanely and raised in a sustainable way. I don't buy a lot of clothes and what I do have I repair and look after.

Some of us aren't lazy and wasteful. Some of us give a damn.

In regards to the article- maybe this will solve the obesity crisis by making high fructose corn syrup not viable from a business point of view?

ewell247
ewell247

Your last sentence makes my point exactly.

I really wish I had used your phrasing instead of mine.

Thanks,

ewell247
ewell247

None of us will have a choice.

Mother Nature doesn’t hold elections or take volunteers.

It will just happen.

IonOtter
IonOtter

 Maybe.  But I'm actually kinda hoping that the Lone Star Tick will solve some of the "meat problem".

It turns out that there's a new player on the field of diseases, and the Lone Star Tick is a vector for galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or "alpha-gal" allergy.  Alpha-gal is a sugar found only in red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb.  So far, there are at least 900 cases, and it's spreading fast.

You get it, and you can never eat red meat again.  Chicken and fish are fine, but no more McDonalds unless you wanna get sick, or even die.

Pretty handy, actually?

6Cobra
6Cobra

One can only wish.  Unfortunately, since the agri-food lobby owns all three branches of our government almost to a man/woman, Uncle Sam will simply dump money on the corn industry to ensure that fatties get theircheap  junk food, agri-business gets their subsidized profits, and taxpayers get bent over the corn trough.