The impacts of the worst drought in 40 years are significant. The drought was most acute in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Global Perspectives (http://www.botheglobalperspectives.com)took a multi-state tour to see, listen and learn. We share this report with you.
Global Perspectives Found:
- Farmers near Lubbock reported no rain for 8 months. Many farmers in financial trouble.
- Ranchers in central Texas reported less than 1/8 inch of rain over a 6 month period. They are selling off their herds because of no grass or water. This will ultimately cause prices to rise.
- New Mexico’s mountain ice pack glaciers melted 3 months early, then the rivers and lakes began to dry up.
- In Kansas, rivers went dry killing fish and putting pressure on quail and pheasant populations.
- In Texas, lakes went dry. Lake Meredith, which provides water for several cities, is now 98 feet down, and some fear it will go dry. Lake Childress is essentially dry.
- Some lakes became so hot that algae infested the water and killed all life. This type of algae, permanently kills lake life, from future usage.
- In New Mexico, rivers that have never gone dry in recorded history stopped flowing. In Texas, we drove across the double mountain fork of the Brazos River. Totally dry. No spring holes, no trickles, just dry rocky river bed.
- As we drove the route from Fort Worth, to Abilene, then Sweetwater, Snyder, Post and Lubbock we saw burned areas repeatedly. Wild grass fires in Texas (over 180 this year alone) destroyed lives, homes, fences, grassland and trees. Great disruption for people and animals.
- In Arizona the 3rd largest ever wild fire swept across eastern Arizona and then crossed into New Mexico. With winds in the 50 mile per hour range, it was uncontrollable.
- Then the fires started in New Mexico, first from Arizona, then at Los Alamos, then in the Pecos Wilderness near Santa Fe. For 60 days, smoke and ash covered homes as far as 200 miles downwind.
Current culture, where the vast majority of population lives in cities, is often isolated from the source of our food and fiber. But when a region this large (at least5 states) is decimated by drought, fire, water depletion, and destruction of plants and animals, it is huge.
1. Prices for commodities will increase.
2. Thousands of farmers will file bankruptcy.
3. Small agricultural oriented towns will see bankers, merchants and retail simply dwindle out.
4. City tax bases with decline.
5. Schools will decline.
6. Houses and buildings will go vacant, and as these “unemployed” people migrate to the cities or other areas, their destination cities will feel more economic pressure.
7. Areas that have been deforested or denuded will reflect higher heat, and increase future drought conditions.
8. Loss of animal life will impact wildlife populations for years.
The failures in agricultural businesses and communities create a vacuum making recovery and long term revitalization of food production difficult. Much of the land will go fallow and some will convert from productive farms to open grazing, and this will cause food and fiber prices to go up even more.
We believe it is time for farmers, and consumers to seriously consider “Greenhouse and High Tunnel” food production. Utilization of drip, controlled environment, extended seasons, and use of renewable energy for running irrigation to drip and lighting as Cornucopia Greenhouses has designed, makes even more sense in crisis times.
The impacts are many and especially on agricultural communities are devastating. Farmers and ranchers have lost an entire year of income. Bankers and merchants in the communities depending upon agricultural production have lost an entire year of business. Many businesses in the current economy are already stretched to the hilt.
Financial impacts on the region including Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kansas could be hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions of dollars. It is almost impossible to calculate.
It is also impossible to figure how long it will take to recover and let nature repair the loss of crops, trees, grasslands, forests and water supplies, rivers, lakes and aquifers which are depleted. Forest animals have lost habitat and have died in mass. Deer, turkey, bear, elk, quail, dove, pheasant, all will take years to recover.
Cattle, and domestic animals have been sold off and slaughtered because there is not enough water, or grass, for them. It could take 3, 5 8 years to recover these herds, and recover the agricultural productivity of the land.
One key to helping agriculture recover is to provide easy and cheap credit so that they can rebuild. But banks are already under financial stresses. Can they afford to carry their agricultural customers another year or two. Another matterto consider is alternative water supply systems, to create a system that can function even when it does not rain. Desalination of underground and surface salt/brackish water supplies could be feasible, and should be considered, especially when surface supplies and fresh water aquifers have been overused.
www.benboothe.com does consulting, planning and coordiantion and management for construction of water systems that are supplied with energy created by wind and solar. In this way, desalination water systems can produce water cheaper than traiditional methods now dominating most towns in America. And this is a source, not utilized, indeed historically no one wanted salty or brackish water on their property.
Farming communities are critical to the health of a nation.
Politicians, businessmen, bankers, community leaders need to be gathering and informing themselves of the challenges and then create an organized program to save agriculture, to support farmers and rangers and to give agricultural communities a “lifeline” to help them survive 2011 and the next 2 or 3 years, (which could be the most difficult part).
This is the time for leadership and a disaster reconstruction effort. Because this drought could become worse.
The weather is cooler, and there have been some rains. But the rainfall is well below average and indications are that it will not be able to replenish the water losses from the extended drought. This has happened 4 times in the last 140 years in the USA. The drought of the 1950’s continued for several years, and caused a mass population migration from Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle to California, there, social strife and violence followed as too many people competed for too few jobs, in tent cities. California was ill prepared to create infrastructure to take care of the thousands of Americans that were “blown out” of Texas and Oklahoma and migrated to Texas, duringthe dust bowl, after extended drought.
It is a matter of national economic stability and should be considered a crisis.
Farmers and Ranchers are an independent breed, and often they simply go bankrupt silently. But we as a nation need to be looking for ways to encourage and support them. But it is difficult to replace good farmers and ranchers, once they have gone. Surely we don’t want these experts in food and fiber to end up being greeters at Walmart. After all, it impacts our welfare as well. World Wide, food prices have climbed to record highs, and when food prices become high enough, revolt, revolution and social instability result. That is what we have seen in the Middle East. Riots and governments being rocked, some failed, by people who cannot afford to buy food for their children.
The United States at one time had the most stable and progressive agricultural system in the world. It has been wounded and needs our help as fellow Americans.
Ben Boothe www.benboothe.com