Historic Drought in the Midwest for 2012: Was it really that Bad?

If you lived in the Midwest of the United States this year, I’m sure you were very aware of the heat and lack of rain. In a typical year July would be very hot and humid with regular thunderstorms. August would also be hot, but at some point a change would come and the heat/humidity would start its wind-down into the fall season. The grain crops that the Midwest focuses on (corn, soybeans, wheat) need moisture at key times along with heat to grow and mature a crop. That did not happen normally this year. Whereas March was very warm, April was less so. May was absolutely perfect for planting crops (and many did so) and so was June. The problem with June was that although the conditions were good to planting, the moisture was shut off. Seeds went into dry ground and sat there, waiting. What finally came up was faced with extreme heat and no rain. Depending on the type of growing system (organic vs non-organic), levels of organic matter and topsoil, and exactly where people lived (there was rain in some places) resulted in varying levels of crop failure or relative success.

What is important to know, now that the season is over and harvests are well underway, is the following:

1. The Media: The media really hyped the drought. Terms like “Historic Drought” and “Disaster”, pictures of  crops dying in the fields and cracked soil, sad farmers, etc all lent to the idea of an event of epic proportions.

2. Climate Change: Depending on which side of the global warming (or climate change) debate you find yourself on, the drought of 2012 was used in various ways to advance differing agendas.

3. What Actually Happened: The actual harvests though were actually very good, depending on where you live. Here in Iowa (and especially in Kalona) the rains began to come in August. For those folks who planted later, it was perfect for growing organic corn.

4. What to do: If you are grazing animals in a drought, it is very important to assess growth rates of grass, stocking rate of animals, current amounts of grass available, recovery time of grass and a rough assessment of future rain events. In short, start reducing the herd if you can, slow down the moves if you are rotational grazing, and try not to hammer the grass into the ground.

The season of 2012 is actually turning out to be a very good year for farmers. Not all farmers, but a lot of farmers. There is a lot of good-looking organic grain, the pastures are recovering, and there is good moisture now for the spring of 2013. The moral of this story is don’t always believe what the media is telling you. They need to sell their stories, and bad news sells much better than good.

One Response

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