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The good news: In the past, drought would have been worse

Posted Tuesday, August 7, 2012, at 4:47 PM

Lately we've been bombarded with mainstream media stories about the drought of 2012.

Some report on the affect it has on farmers and livestock. Others cover the rising food prices consumers will pay.

But what we haven't heard is the rest of the story -- the positive part of the story.

If U.S. farmers were not using modern technologies in 2012 we would be facing a situation far worse.

What they are reporting, though, is true.

More than two-thirds of the lower 48 states are experiencing drought.

Record-high temperatures coupled with record-low precipitation has devastated growing crops and livestock. Kansas City data shows from April 1 through July 26 there has been only 5.86 inches of rain, the second driest period on record.

The driest year was 1911, while third on the list is one of the dust bowl years, 1936, with 6.56 inches. In fact, 1988 is fourth with 7.04 inches, and 1980 is sixth with 8.59 inches. (See http://www.crh.noaa.


This was also the third warmest period from April 1 to July 25 on record with a 72.2 degree average. The warmest year was 1934, followed by 1936.

It is entirely possible 2012 will go down as the worst drought in U.S. history.

What they are reporting is true. Our corn yields will be severely affected. And if rains don't come in August, soybean yields will also decrease considerably.

Our winter supply of hay is already dwindling as we have had to feed hay for the past month. Lush summer grass pastures have been replaced by a crunchy, brown mixture resembling concrete. Farmers faced with lack of feed are selling cattle herds off quickly.

But then there is the story which isn't getting told.

With so little rain and so many 100-degree days, we should be disking all our corn down. We should be having huge dust storms like they did in the 1930s. Unable to withstand high temperatures, pigs and chickens should be dying by the thousands, and farmers should be making plans to sell out, retire or find another source of income.

Consumers should be looking at a food shortage, not just a small price increase.

But we aren't disking. Farmers will be harvesting some corn. Perhaps not a lot, but some. With a little luck and a lot of rain in August, we could still have a decent soybean crop. Pastures could come back in time to save some hay for the winter.

There aren't any dust storms, despite high velocity, hot winds and very dry ground.

Pigs and chickens aren't dying off by the thousand because of the heat. In fact, even though pigs don't have sweat glands, most are doing just fine.

And most farmers aren't planning to quit farming. We will see some effect, but certainly not the mass exodus of people leaving rural America like the 1930s.

Often criticized and maligned in the popular media, the truth is without new technology our problems would be much worse.

Just like the modern technology of air-conditioning means fewer deaths during the heat wave, modern farming techniques means we will still have food and we will still have family farmers.

Today, hybrid seeds and yes, genetically modified crops, mean we need fewer resources, even water, to grow more crops on less land.

We now can grow 87 percent more corn per ounce of fertilizer.

We have increased productivity on America's farms more than 200 percent since the 1940s.

We are losing farmland every day to urban sprawl, but we still produce more food than ever before. If 1950 farming techniques were used today, 150 million people would be hungry, and that's in an average year.

Modern pesticides mean we now produce four times the corn and wheat on fewer acres than ever before. It also means weeds and insects no longer reduce yields by 40 percent. (See https://www.facebook.com/lens.of.a.farm.....

Minimum-till and no-till approaches have replaced early farming techniques which left soil vulnerable to erosion and dust storms. Consequently, erosion has decreased 90 percent.

And the pigs and chickens? They are quite comfortable inside climate-controlled buildings, much like the rest of us.

And yes, prices may rise some, probably because they can, much more than because they should. But Americans will still pay less than 7 percent of their take-home pay on food. Put another way, the average American works just 40 days to pay their yearly food bill, while at the same time they will work 128 days to pay federal, state and local taxes each year.

Today 90 percent of farms are protected by some sort of crop insurance, as opposed to the 1980s when just 30 percent of farms carried insurance. Because of that, most farmers will be able to pay expenses this year. They will be able to look forward to 2013, ever optimistic for better weather.

But without these improvements, 2012 would be the end of many family farms, which still account for 95 percent of all American farms.

And when the family farmers left, it would also economically damage rural America and those family businesses.

The erroneous news reports of the downfall of the family farm would finally be true. We would see the rise to larger farms, and eventually there would actually be corporate farms. We would see more integration between food companies and farms.

And then our food production would be like much of our manufacturing industry -- sent to foreign lands for cheaper production costs.

And we would still be faced with higher prices.

That, my friends, is the rest of the story.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Marcia do farm subsidies in any way play a part in the current farm crisis? If so, how?

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Mon, Aug 13, 2012, at 1:18 PM

I don't really think so OKR. In fact, we really don't have a farm crisis - just a drought.

Crop insurance, which is federally backed, is the reason it hasn't turned into a crisis, and farmers won't be going out of business.

In a country which seems to favor more farmers, not fewer, I think that is very important.

I think if a 2012 farm bill is passed it will include very few, if any, direct subsidies. I think most of the farm groups just want some kind of safety net in case prices do go way down, or droughts continue.

Farm subsidies were put in place to ensure a steady supply of food as a matter of national security. In the U.S., farmers are subsidized at a much lower rate than E.U. countries, while U.S. consumers still enjoy lower prices.

Even now, U.S. farm subsidies account for 1/2 of one percent of the federal budget. However, in our economy I certainly understand the reason people don't think they are a good idea.


-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Mon, Aug 13, 2012, at 4:16 PM

Thanks Marcia. You may not believe this, but I really wasn't trying to stir controversy concerning subsidies. I thought you would know if anyone does if there was some portion of the policy that addressed our current situation. I had not found anything that did during my own search. :)

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Mon, Aug 13, 2012, at 6:56 PM

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