Despite government assistance to stop the 1930s disaster, the recent recurrence of Dust Bowl conditions is ironically being blamed on government policies. Federal government-subsidized crop insurance encourages farmers to plant crops even during extremely unfavorable conditions. Another government program (Conservation Reserve Program) that encourages farmers to take marginal land out of production and put into grassland is being reduced. High commodity prices for crops, especially corn due to the ethanol subsidy and the Renewable Fuel Standard, encouraged farmers to plow up the grasslands and increase crop acreage. This is very similar to what happened during the 1920s when huge tracts of grasslands were laid bare.
Another factor that helped end the Dust Bowl of the ‘30s was the introduction of irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer. Today with massive corn production aimed at taking advantage of the ethanol demand, drawdown on this aquifer has increased two-and-a-half times in just over a decade. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, many areas in Texas, Oklahoma, and Southwest Kansas will run out of water in less than 25 years.
Whether a result of dust storms, declining aquifers, low lake levels or droughts of record, Texas and our neighboring states have serious water-related problems. Politicians posture and speak of finding new sources and building more new dams, but the key lies in conserving what we have. We can no longer afford to waste water growing irrigated corn to turn into ethanol to fuel corrupt and inept government policy.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.