The PBS Dust Bowl series will air again tonight in two consecutive shows from 8 to midnight. Before the days of no-till, cover crops, and contour plowing, agriculturalists coming from the humid eastern states simply did not understand the volatility of weather patterns in the arid west, and so they plowed up millions of acres of native grasslands and left much of it exposed to drying winds. In fact, they believed plowing the land would cause the climate to change stating “rain follows the plow.”
The dust bowl decade was a devastating combination of unsuitable agricultural practices, greed, extended drought, and economic depression.
I thought the ending comments by dust bowl “survivor,” Wayne Lewis, were particularly important: “We want it now – and if it makes money now it’s a good idea. But if the things we’re doing are going to mess up the future it wasn’t a good idea. Don’t deal on the moment. Take the long-term look at things. It’s important that we do the right thing by the soil and the climate. History, is of value only if you learn from it.”
He goes on to talk about draining the Ogallala aquifer and says something to the effect of he wonders if people will look back and wonder why we used up all the good drinking water to raise feed for pigs (sorry, I did not get it written down verbatim). It’s hard (and foolish) to ignore the perspective of a man who lived through what no one thought possible- the desertification of a huge piece of North America, especially a man who had nothing to gain by making that statement.
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A great book to read on this subject is “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan.
If the land had not been broken by the plow, it would have just been another regular drought.
Thanks, I’ll check it out. I didn’t quite get through High Plains Horticulture: A History by John Francis Freeman before it was due back at the library, but it gives some great background into the thinking and science of that era. There was a huge gap in understanding agriculture on the high plains compared to the eastern and more humid midwestern states.