Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 drought in the US: How does it stack up?

Jonathan Knutson in Agweek: Charles Howe has suffered through his share of droughts, including the current one. When asked to compare this year’s drought with notorious ones of the past, the 68-year-old McLaughlin, S.D., farmer and seed dealer doesn’t hesitate. “This year isn’t as bad. It’s tough, but there were other years that were worse,” Howe says.

The full, final verdict won’t be in until the region’s late crops are harvested. But based on what’s known so far, this year’s drought isn’t as damaging to the Upper Midwest’s ag economy as drought in some previous years, area agriculturalists say.

True, many ranchers across the region are struggling with dried-up pastures and hayfields. But area crops, particularly wheat and other small grains, which were planted early and matured before the worst of the drought, have held up better than in some previous droughts.

...Douglas Hartwig, director of the Minnesota Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says crops across the state look better than in some previous droughts.

For instance, USDA predicts Minnesota’s average corn yield this year at 155 bushels per acre, Hartwig says. In contrast, Minnesota corn yielded only 74 bushels per acre in 1988 and 64.5 bushels per acre in 1961, two of the region’s worst drought years. Farmers and others point to two big reasons this year’s drought has done less damage.
  • Better farming practices, including no tillage, and improved crop varieties that need less moisture. No till is a system designed to conserve moisture; the soil is disturbed only by the hole or slit in which the seed is planted. “We do such a better job today with tillage,” Howe says. “And the genetics (of seed) are better, too.
  • Heavy rains in 2011 left plentiful subsoil moisture in much of the region. This year’s crop was able to tap that moisture, reducing the impact of inadequate rain....
Severely eroded farmland during the Dust Bowl, circa 1930's. From the US Department of Agriculture

No comments: