“Now the wind grew strong and hard, it worked at the rain crust in the corn fields. Little by little the sky was darkened by the mixing dust, and the wind felt over the earth, loosened the dust and carried it away.”
These words from John Steinbeck’s award-winning novel “The Grapes of Wrath” describe the impact of the 1930s Dust Bowl, the high, towering clouds of black soil whirring through the air, the dusted-out residents migrating to the promised land of opportunity along the country’s west coastline.
While we may not see gigantic walls of dirt moving across open prairie, we see similarities: lack of rain, dried and cracked earth, overabundance of grasshoppers and other pests, economic devastation and worries.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows this region wavering between severe and extreme drought ranges. In our area of the state, UNL’s drought report shows the largest impact affects agriculture, followed by relief response and restrictions, energy, and water supply and quality.
Currently, 75 percent of our state falls into the extreme drought category. Near the middle of Nebraska, from Custer County to Boone County, the drought range is classified as exceptional. Dry conditions have sparked wildfires, rivers and streams are running dry, and farmers are encountering higher operational costs due to a lack of hay and feed.
Folks, don’t expect it to get better. The three-month climatology outlook does not look promising. Above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation seem to be the normal weather pattern through October.
Just how dry is it? It’s so parched that even Dry Lake (a mile from our place) has evaporated into a cracked crater of crinkled soil. Scott tells me he remembers only one other time when Dry Lake lived up to its name, in 1988.
How hot is it? My pal Gregg Moeller claims, “This weather is like having to read lots of (William) Faulkner – you have high hopes at the beginning, then you start hoping for the best – after a while you start praying for divine intervention…”
All kidding aside, the lack of measurable rainfall is shrinking crops, and conditions appear to be worsening.
Is the current drought worse than the Dust Bowl?
In 1934, the drought covered 75 percent of the United States. Over 100 million acres of crops had lost all or most of the topsoil, and an additional 125 million acres were rapidly losing the top layer.
The environmental impact of the 1930s provided updated conservation programs, pushed counteractive farming techniques, and resulted in FDR’s shelterbelt program, which stretched a 100-mile wide path from Canada to Texas.
Now, we rip out shelterbelts, filling fields to the roadway as crop futures reach top levels.
Now, wilted crops line farm country roadways while corn prices have increased 20 percent in the last month; soybeans, 15 percent.
Now, lower harvest estimates cause concern about food supplies for humans and livestock.
Now, skyrocketing grocery prices are projected to spike to a four to five percent increase later this year.
Is history repeating itself?