Another Dust Bowl-Style Event Could Lead to Catastrophic Crop Loss, Study Shows

· Feb. 16, 2017, 3:07 pm
Prowers County, Colorado. Dust storm circa 1935Prowers County, Colorado. Dust storm circa 1935 Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-USF343-001617-ZE] / Library of Congress
Prowers County, Colorado. Dust storm circa 1935

A new study looked into what would happen if the modern agricultural industry was to experience a 1930s Dust Bowl style event.

The study suggests the U.S. could lose an unprecedented amount of crops with a severe enough multi-year drought. 

Joshua Elliott is a research professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. He says the loss of crops could be upward of 40%.

"In the most pessimistic scenario, by the 2050s, even a year with average precipitation could be approaching almost as bad as some of the worst years in the 1930s in terms of impacts," he said.

According to Elliott, climate change plays a key role in this scenario. 

"The most important part is that climate change makes all the other stressors that already exist in this system worse, basically, including both the size and severity and frequency of these extreme events and these resource issues," he said.

Although agricultural technology and management styles have progressed, Elliott says there hasn't been enough incentive for farmers to improve drought sensitivity.

"These big drought events which might come along, on average, once every decade, just aren't frequent enough so that it's economically viable for the farmers…to sacrifice a little bit of average yield in order to improve drought sensitivity," he said. 

He says managing water resources efficiently is key to preventing another Dust Bowl-like event.

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