Technological Advances Wouldn’t Save US Crops From Another Dust Bowl

Technological Advances Wouldn’t Save US Crops From Another Dust Bowl

Technological advances wouldn’t protect US agriculture from a drought on the scale of the legendary Dust Bowl crisis of the 1930s, research shows.

Additionally, warming temperatures could lead to crop losses at the scale of the Dust Bowl, even in normal precipitation years by the mid-21st century, scientists conclude.

“By mid-century even a normal year in precipitation could be as bad as what we saw in 1936.”

The study, published in Nature Plants, simulated the effect of extreme weather from the Dust Bowl era on today’s maize, soy, and wheat crops. Authors Michael Glotter and Joshua Elliott of the Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Chicago’s Computation Institute, examined whether modern agricultural innovations would protect against history repeating itself under similar conditions.

“We expected to find the system much more resilient because 30 percent of production is now irrigated in the United States, and because we’ve abandoned corn production in more severely drought-stricken places such as Oklahoma and west Texas,” says Elliott, a fellow and research scientist at the center and the Computation Institute. “But we found the opposite: The system was just as sensitive to drought and heat as it was in the 1930s.”

The severe damage of the Dust Bowl was actually caused by three distinct droughts in quick succession, occurring in 1930-31, 1933-34, and 1936. From 1933 to 1939, wheat yields declined by double-digit percentages, reaching a peak loss of 32 percent in 1933. The economic and societal consequences were vast, eroding land value throughout the Great Plains states and displacing millions of people.

In the eight decades since that crisis, agricultural practices have changed dramatically. But many technological and geographical shifts were intended to optimize average yield instead of resilience to severe weather, leaving many staple crops vulnerable to seasons of unusually low precipitation and/or high temperatures.

As a result, when the researchers simulated the effects of the 1936 drought upon today’s agriculture, they still observed roughly 40 percent losses in maize and soy yield, while wheat crops declined by 30 percent. The harm would be 50 percent worse than the 2012 drought, which caused nearly $100 billion of damage to the US economy.

“We knew a Dust Bowl-type drought would be devastating even for modern agriculture, but we expected technological advancements to mitigate those damages much more than our results suggested,” says Glotter, a graduate student in geophysical sciences. “Technology has evolved to make yields as high as possible in normal years. But as extreme events become more frequent and severe, we may have to reframe how we breed crops and select for variance and resilience, not just for average yield.”

The forecast grew even more dire when the researchers looked at the effect of elevated temperatures on US crop yields. An increase of four degrees above today’s average temperatures—a possible scenario by the mid-21st century—doubled the effect of a 1936-level drought, reducing crop yields by as much as 80 percent. Even under non-drought years with normal precipitation, the hotter weather produces declines in crop yield as severe as those experienced during the Dust Bowl.

“By mid-century even a normal year in precipitation could be as bad as what we saw in 1936,” Elliott says. “And a year with even a 10 to 20 percent loss of precipitation becomes extraordinarily damaging.”

Strategies to avoid these agricultural crises and their severe ripple effects for global food security could include switching to more drought-resistant crops such as sorghum, moving wheat, soy, and maize agriculture to northern US states, or developing new strains of crops with higher heat tolerance. But none of these preventative efforts is cheap, and they may be impossible for developing countries to implement, the authors says.

“Reducing emissions will be critical to avoiding some of the worst damages from extreme weather in a changing climate,” Glotter says. “But even in the best case scenarios, climate change is expected to alter the severity and frequency of future droughts. Understanding the interactions of weather extremes and a changing agricultural system is therefore critical to effectively prepare for and respond to the next Dust Bowl.”

Source: University of Chicago

Related Books:

List Price: $6.99
Price: $6.99


List Price: $6.99
Sale Price: $6.99 $6.92 You save: $0.07


List Price: $8.15
Price: $8.15


enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

South Africans Are Feeling The Heat In More Ways Than One
by eNCA
Load-shedding combined with soaring temperatures are a bad combination.
Why Uncertainty Can Actually Boost Trust In Climate Science
Why Uncertainty Can Actually Boost Trust In Climate Science
by Melissa De Witte
The more specific climate scientists are about the uncertainties of global warming, the more the American public trusts…
How World Conflicts Are Influence By The Changing Climate
How World Conflicts Are Influence By The Changing Climate
by John Vidal
The relationship between a heating planet and violent clashes is complex — and critical. “This is where I keep my…
Emergency Medicine For Our Climate Fever
by Kelly Wanser
As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also…
What Extinction Rebellion climate activists are demanding from governments
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 climate activists were arrested in 60 cities worldwide in a global effort aimed at urging governments to…
Can Nature Repair The Planet From Climate Change?
by The Economist
A closer look at one of the most familiar responses offered to the climate crisis.
How Climate Change Is Threatening Homes In Mumbai
by South China Morning Post
Lowland cities and islands such as the Indian city of Mumbai may face increasingly frequent floods and storms
This is Not A Drill: 700+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Fights Climate Crisis With Direct Action
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 people have been arrested in civil disobedience actions as the group Extinction Rebellion kicked off two…

LATEST ARTICLES

How Divergent Goals Hinder The Fight Of The Climate Crisis
How Divergent Goals Hinder The Fight Of The Climate Crisis
by Pascale Dufour
Nearly half a million people demonstrated in Montréal to demand climate action on Sept. 27. It was one of the largest…
Why You Shouldn't Use
Why You Shouldn't Use "Weather" And "Climate" Interchangeably
by Jennifer Fitchett
As January 2019 entered its third week, huge swathes of the US are blanketed with snow, and winter storm warnings were…
South Africans Are Feeling The Heat In More Ways Than One
by eNCA
Load-shedding combined with soaring temperatures are a bad combination.
Iowa's Farmers – And American Eaters – Need A National Discussion On Transforming Us Agriculture
We Need A National Discussion On Transforming Agriculture
by Lisa Schulte Moore
Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses bring the state a lot of political attention during presidential election cycles.
Can We Deal With The Climate Crisis Without Having A Financial Chaos?
Can We Deal With The Climate Crisis Without Having A Financial Chaos?
by Geoff Dembicki
Communities face a tricky dilemma as climate changes: How to prepare for impacts without scaring away homeowners and…
Should Science Must Be Mobilized Like World War Ii To Fight The Climate Crisis
Should Science Must Be Mobilized Like World War Ii To Fight The Climate Crisis
by Tom Oliver
We’ve all but won the argument on climate change. The facts are now unequivocal and climate denialists are facing a…
The IEA Projects Global Renewable Energy Capacity to Rise by 50% in next 5 Years
The IEA Projects Global Renewable Energy Capacity to Rise by 50% in next 5 Years
by Jessica Corbett
However, the deployment of renewables "still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality,…
Evidence Shows Warming Forces World Of Ice Into Retreat
New Evidence Shows Warming Forces World Of Ice Into Retreat
by Tim Radford
New evidence from the air, space, atmospheric chemistry and old records is testament to global warming impacts on the…