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Sun Nov 25, 2012, 10:23 AM

Meet the New Dust Bowl, Same as the Old Dust Bowl


from Civil Eats:



Meet the New Dust Bowl, Same as the Old Dust Bowl

November 23rd, 2012
By Donald Carr


There is no better time than the Thanksgiving Holiday to explore the connection between our food and the land it comes from. Ken Burns, America’s premiere documentarian, has tackled topics from jazz to the Civil War. His new film chronicles the Dust Bowl, the massive ecological disaster that plagued a large swath of U. S. farmland during the 1930’s.

The same forces that wreaked havoc on soil and farmer’s livelihoods in the Dust Bowl era are in play today. Producers are once again going all out in response to soaring crop prices. Market forces coupled with misguided federal policies have encouraged dangerous, industrial-scale monocultures of corn and soy across the Midwest.

Writing about the Holiday weekend in the Huffington Post, author Frances Moore Lappe highlights the connection between what we eat and how it dictates what is grown “In the U.S., 43 percent of all cropped acreage, and the most fertile share, goes to just two crops — corn and soy. Yet they aren’t really food but raw materials that hardly ever turn up in our mouths directly.”

Misguided farming practices at the heart of the disaster

The opening episode of the 4-hour epic that premiered on PBS on November 18 goes right to the cause of the problem. In a short time, farmers converted an area twice the size of New Jersey and centering in the Oklahoma Panhandle from native grassland to wheat fields. They did so because of a concerted policy in the 1920’s to industrialize agriculture and to “turn farming into a factory.” But the wind-swept prairie that dominated the region was unsuited for growing much, aside from drought- resistant grasses. Once farmers turned over the firm soil, they set the stage for a monumental disaster. .....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://civileats.com/2012/11/23/meet-the-new-dust-bowl-same-as-the-old-dust-bowl/



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Arrow 27 replies Author Time Post
Reply Meet the New Dust Bowl, Same as the Old Dust Bowl (Original post)
marmar Nov 2012 OP
Voice for Peace Nov 2012 #1
Sunlei Nov 2012 #2
Jackpine Radical Nov 2012 #4
NickB79 Nov 2012 #7
Sunlei Nov 2012 #16
Sunlei Nov 2012 #11
Jackpine Radical Nov 2012 #13
Sunlei Nov 2012 #15
NickB79 Nov 2012 #19
Sunlei Nov 2012 #20
hobbit709 Nov 2012 #27
slackmaster Nov 2012 #10
Sunlei Nov 2012 #21
slackmaster Nov 2012 #25
geckosfeet Nov 2012 #3
FarCenter Nov 2012 #5
Sunlei Nov 2012 #17
FarCenter Nov 2012 #18
Sunlei Nov 2012 #22
FarCenter Nov 2012 #23
Egalitarian Thug Nov 2012 #6
NickB79 Nov 2012 #8
Egalitarian Thug Nov 2012 #9
hfojvt Nov 2012 #12
KamaAina Nov 2012 #24
FarCenter Nov 2012 #14
Little Star Nov 2012 #26

Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 10:30 AM

1. thanks! I want to watch this, especially now living

in the dry dry southwest.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 10:40 AM

2. only 200 years ago the lands were pristine, covered with millions of grazing animals.

Our great North American grasslands were created by herds of millions of animals. Many like wild horses by their grazing habits spread grass seed and natural fertilizer far and wide. In the winters animals like horses opened frozen water and were able to paw through the snows to uncover grass. All the smaller grazers followed horses in winter. The larger grazers migrated very far with the seasons, they gave their pastures a break to renew.

Nature and grazing animals that clip the grasses (don't eat the roots!) can renew the lands FREE for us. If only man didn't remove the wild horses and break the cycle of nature.

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #2)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 11:05 AM

4. Bison, antelope, etc. were the original grazers--

The "wild" horses arrived with the Spanish.

Also there is some reason to believe that the Great Plains were man-made (before the arrival of Columbus, or even Leif Erikson).

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #4)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 01:06 PM

7. Indeed. Without humans, the Plains would probably be oak savanna

Looking much more like west-central Africa than anything else, with numerous groves of trees spaced among tall grasses.

The frequent fires that Native Americans frequently set to improve grazing grasses pushed back the drought-hardy burr oaks and sumac that are constantly trying to push into the Great Plains. Even today prairie restoration projects rely on annual burns to stop the encroachment of the forests. Occassional natural fires from lighting strikes did their part as well, but they're not nearly as frequent as the fires set by man over thousands of years.

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #7)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 08:08 AM

16. I think the first masses of covered wagons cut down any groves of trees pretty fast

Catlin art shows the groves of trees and types of grasses. If you go out in the grass lands the wagon tracks are still there.[link:|

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #4)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 01:44 PM

11. horses evolved for over 50 million years on north america and spread out from here.

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #11)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 03:59 PM

13. Yes, of course.

But somehow I don't think the OP was talking about Eohippus.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #13)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 08:01 AM

15. no not the forrest horses of 60,000 years ago

The grazers of 8-10k years ago who were thinned out by some natural disaster, however ice DNA shows the large grazers were thinned but never gone from their homelands.

Much like zoo raised Tigers do well released in their jungles in India, horses heal their homelands. That's why even a short 200 years ago the lands of America were pristine.

It should be a crime for any farmer to leave any pasture uncovered of plants. A crime to use agent orange to strip the land bare for the next crop. Without plants there are no rising mists in the morning, the winds heat up and blow the exposed dirt away.


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Response to Sunlei (Reply #15)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 10:38 AM

19. Horses were wiped out in N. America entirely 10,000 yr ago

Along with the rest of the megafaunal species, due to a combination of hunting and climate change. EVERY wild horse in N. America today is descended from horses introduced by Europeans: http://www.livescience.com/717-humans-wiped-wild-horses.html. In fact, due to the lack of any fast-running surviving native predators to prey upon them, such as the now-extinct American cheetah, horses are causing major damage to American ecosystems they've been introduced to and are classified as invasive exotic species in some states, just like Asian carp, kudzu or Asian beetles. Some scientists seriously discuss the idea of wiping them out, in the same way they wipe out rats and goats in the Galapagos that threaten native species. As it stands, we only round up enough every year to try to keep the population in check.

I have no idea where you're coming up with "ice DNA" evidence of their continued survival in N. America. Horses survived and were domesticated in central Asia and Europe long after they died out in N. America.

There's a reason the Native Americans used packdogs to pull their gear when Europeans first arrived: they had no other large animals that they could easily domesticate.

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #19)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 11:32 AM

20. I disagree with you, horses are a native species.

There is much recent evidence from DNA science that some pockets of horses survived whatever disaster happened 10 to 20k years ago. That is besides the Ocean rising to cover the last of the Beringian land bridge

In addition Native American DNA has shown up in the original Viking humans who settled iceland thousands of years ago. Icelandic horse DNA has been traced to some of the remains of some east coast horse remains.

Some ascent tribal lore, (a spoken history) says horses have always been here.


Scientific DNA testing has quickly changed the history accounts.

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #20)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 04:40 PM

27. Huh?

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #2)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 01:44 PM

10. Not just grazing animals.

 

Grazing animals that taste good.

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Response to slackmaster (Reply #10)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 12:59 PM

21. unlike buffalo and horses, tasty domestic cattle don't have upper teeth for grass "clipping"

That's why domestic cattle are so hard on the land, although very tasty as steaks.

Domestic cattle rip up larger quantities of grass, many times /w roots while grazing using their lower teeth and their upper dental pad as well as their tongue. Then they use their molars to grind it up.

The wild horses clipped the grass, move several miles a day grazing and spread grass seeds with natural fertilizer far and wide. That's why the grasslands were pristine only a couple centuries ago.

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #21)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 04:31 PM

25. I have mixed feelings about modern "wild" horses which are descended from European imports

 

The last true wild American horses died out about 10-12,000 years ago, and it wouldn't surprise me if the main cause of their demise was hunting by humans.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/0501_060501_ice_age.html

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 10:46 AM

3. Way to go hybridized wheat.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 11:23 AM

5. But the tillage didn't cause the drought -- it just made the consequences worse locally

The drought of the mid-30s affected a much larger area than the southern Great Plains. In much of that area the drought was severe enough to cause crop failure in '34-36, and it caused dust storms as far north and east as Minnesota. The root cause was more likely a decadal climate variation.

The "Great American Desert" has existed in the past. The Sandhills of Nebraska are actually sand dunes.

Large Wind Shift on the Great Plains During the Medieval Warm Period

Spring-summer winds from the south move moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Plains. Rainfall in the growing season sustains prairie grasses that keep large dunes in the Nebraska Sand Hills immobile. Longitudinal dunes built during the Medieval Warm Period (800 to 1000 years before the present) record the last major period of sand mobility. These dunes are oriented NW-SE and are composed of cross-strata with bipolar dip directions. The trend and structure of the dunes record a drought that was initiated and sustained by a historically unprecedented shift of spring-summer atmospheric circulation over the Plains: Moist southerly flow was replaced by dry southwesterly flow.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/313/5785/345.abstract?sid=f95fe2c7-4f95-46af-819c-eff24bccac55

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Response to FarCenter (Reply #5)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 09:11 AM

17. The sand hills of Nebraska, did a well drill and ~ 80ft down there is a 40 ft layer of volcanic ash

wonder if that ash came from yellowstone super volcano or sooner from the time Mt. St. Helens erupted huge and wiped out/flattened the entire states of washington/oregon.

Those kind of eruptions change the weather

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #17)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 09:53 AM

18. Interesting -- seems mostly Yellowstone, but older than 600,000 years.

http://academic.emporia.edu/aberjame/ice/lec17/lec17.htm

See Figure 17-1. We would appear to be due for another eruption of Yellowstone.

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Response to FarCenter (Reply #18)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 01:05 PM

22. hope that super volcano yellowstone stays quiet for 200,000 years or more

Mt. St. Helens, her last eruption was very small, fast and mostly remote lands. Yellowstone would be a huge disaster.

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Response to Sunlei (Reply #22)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 02:02 PM

23. Why? It's completely improbable that civilisation will last 200,000 years.

Far too many things run out by then.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 12:54 PM

6. In addition to being and excellent source of fibers and oils, hemp enriches the soil.

 

The age-old practice of leaving fields to lie fallow for one season out of four is unnecessary with hemp. If we were to return hemp production for a significant part of agriculture, it would go a long way toward healing our economy as well as ameliorating the effects of the drought.

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Response to Egalitarian Thug (Reply #6)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 01:14 PM

8. Hemp grown on an industrial basis isn't that great for soils

The biggest problem we face is that we're stripping off the organic matter for food, fuel and fiber every year, living precious little to hold down the soil or nurture the soil's ecosystems.

Growing hemp commercially would just involve it being harvested the same way we currently harvest other crops: cut down, baled up, and shipped away. The root stubble would be plowed under, and the soil exposed during the winter. At least with small family farmers raising livestock, some of the crop is fed to the animals every year and the nutrients returned to the fields through manure. I've never heard of anyone feeding hemp to cattle, though.

I would love to see some evidence backing up this claim: "The age-old practice of leaving fields to lie fallow for one season out of four is unnecessary with hemp." Hemp has been cultivated for millenia, and was a common crop even when people still practiced and respected fallowing. Hemp doesn't fix nitrogen like alfalfa or beans, so it isn't adding to the soil that way. It's root system isn't nearly as extensive as alfalfa either. Why would you think we wouldn't need fallow periods with hemp?

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #8)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 01:42 PM

9. Fast growing, minimal water requirement, constant production of biomass during growth cycle,

 

soil friendly, the list of benefits is very long. Here's a good starting point if you're interested in learning more.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 01:50 PM

12. dang, I still remember

when I could pick up women on DU by quoting Frances Moore Lappe

I sure miss SouthlandShari

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Response to hfojvt (Reply #12)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 02:35 PM

24. Many of us do

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Nov 25, 2012, 10:23 PM

14. Just saw the second half -- changes farming practices helped some, but ultimately it was rain

At the end of the '30s, the annual precipitation went back up to 20 inches / year and the dust bowl ended.

From other sources, paleoclimate studies show that similar droughts occur about twice per century.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Mon Nov 26, 2012, 04:37 PM

26. In 20 years the Ogallala Aquifer will be depleted (no more drinking water)....

But money right now is more important. It's just insane they have not learned their lesson.

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