In this epic dry year, we’ve heard a lot of “worst since the Dust Bowl” comparisons. I’ve been arguing that it’s a bogus comparison – one horribly dry year against a decadal scale phenomenon. But there’s a second reason, nicely captured by Kevin Welch today in the Amarillo Globe-News:
Farming practices imported from the Midwest contributed to the woes of the ’30s. Plows turned sod over, breaking it into fine particles. Mechanization turned small operations into farms covering square miles, Baumhardt said.
When it got dry and windy, the dust flew.
Some approaches developed by scientists involve not plowing under all crop residue after harvest, avoiding making the soil smooth or not plowing at all.
“Clods don’t blow,” Baumhardt said. “Wheat residue does essentially what tree rows do. It prevents the wind from getting the energy to move soil.”
The impact is less dust. Further, moisture is conserved because the soil isn’t disturbed as much so evaporation slows.
The Dust Bowl was part climate, part the result of farming practice. Farming practice was fixed.