Ken Burns new documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” depicts a full-blown ecological disaster, the likes of which never had been seen in America.
The dust storms that swept across Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and other Great Plains states in the late 1920s and early 1930s were largely caused by the combination of drought and high winds on a landscape that had seen the near total conversion of native grasslands and wetlands to row crop production.
As I write this, similar conversions of native grasslands and wetlands are occurring alarmingly quickly. I have to wonder: Is federal farm policy helping write the script for a new Dust Bowl?
In the last several years, crop prices have steadily increased. As many of you know, corn and soybean prices hit a record high this summer. These high crop prices create immense pressure to convert marginally productive grasslands, wetlands and forestlands to row crops.
Federal crop insurance policy removes much of the risk associated with converting these marginal acres. Unlike every other federal farm program, crop insurance does not require farmers to be “conservation compliant.” This means that crop insurance benefits can be maintained even when farmers convert ecologically valuable wetlands, grasslands and till highly erodible lands.
How do we stop history from repeating itself? By passing a strong federal Farm Bill that includes measures addressing conservation compliance.
I can only hope that the black-and-white images of families living inside dusty houses with potato sacks over their heads will capture the attention of our elected officials tasked as they work toward passing the next farm bill. Or maybe the testimony of beautiful, old, wise faces telling of their parents’ mental breakdowns from the devastation catch the eye of members of the House Committee on Agriculture.
We can’t afford to let history repeat itself this time. Contact your member of Congress and ask him or her to take action on the Farm Bill and make sure that the conservation programs that have helped to prevent environmental calamities like the Dust Bowl are strengthened.
President of Sundog, Inc., a business development firm based in Fayetteville, Ark., that focuses on agriculture, alternative energy and green products, Tim Kizer is also the private lands field representative for the TRCP.