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Frequent Contributor

Re: Anyone watch Dust Bowl on PBS?

I have filed a prevent plant on wheat and am told it will be very difficult because i don't have any neighbors that chose not to plant  Most farmers were in the position of having to plant as their tillage destroyed all cover. Their fields are still bare of vegatation, so who made the correct decision? If we were to have a wet sinter and spring they will be ok, but if it doesn't God help us.

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Frequent Contributor

Re: Anyone watch Dust Bowl on PBS?

There was something about the voices of the Dust Bowl survivors that reminded me of my wife's three spinster aunts from Brady, Nebraska--and why I like the people of the High Plains so much. They're some of the toughest folks on earth. And, yes, Jim, they're already doing things to preserve the Ogallala Aquifer in states like Nebraska. There, local Natural Resource Districts have limits on irrigation water withdrawal. Those great people are also the reason that things like a Buffalo Commons are such a bad idea. With a little help from Extension and NRCS, they'll take much better care of their own land than theorists fromt the East. 

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Frequent Contributor

Re: Annual short-term droughts

 

Farming as if it's not going to rain is what no-till is all about. At least here where I farm, that's ture. We get around 18" of moisture per year, this year we are below 10. That tops off last year being close to the same.

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Advisor

Re: Anyone watch Dust Bowl on PBS?

Jeff, my parents farmed in Beaver county and before that as a teen dad attended Felt high school. They lived in a little town called Coldwater, Texas across the border. It is no longer on the map. The stories he told were much like described in the show. As a child I lived in Beaver county and remember the dust storms in the 50's.

The question you pose is certainly a tough one to answer. I have relatives who pulled up stakes and made the trek to California. I cannot imagine the humiliation they experienced, feeling like total failures, destitute and then discriminated by society and employers for being "okies". Watching the video, I understand now why they would have nothing to do with their midwestern relatives. It's still a reminder of their origins.

However, I believe it was just as difficult to stay. I admire the courage and tenacity of all of those people. Survival was their only focus.

My parents adapted as much as they could. Postum coffee, using oatmeal to extend meat, lard as a spread on bread, taking week old bread and baking it to a crisp and making a meal out of it by wetting it are some things I remember from their stories in the 50's.

One other thing that puts it into context is the lifesaving impact on the government's role of insuring the future of midwestern agriculture. The WPA,FSA, the extension program, all were invaluable in saving much of American agriculture
Senior Advisor

The Dust Bowl and the Government

What lessons did you take from your understanding of the dust bowl and government action?

It would be easy to conclude that government is a vital - maybe integral - part of agriculture and this was proven during the '30s.  The government sponsored and funded key conservation efforts that were a critical part of the recovery from the Dust Bowl.  The conservation efforts paid off in the laste '30s and again in the '50s.

Hopefully, we are a lot smarter now about how to care for the ground.  Do we need the government to tell us what is best for the land, or is that knowledge widely availabe now?  If it is available, then it would seem the government would not be needed to teach us how to farm properly.  Ah, you say, but people may know better but not do better.  That is, indeed, the rub.  Do we need a government to tell people to do the things they are smart enough to do but maybe not inclined to do? 

If a person pays $15,000/acre for land, will that person maximize conservation or production?  If it comes down to the little things, will the farmer put in that marginally needed waterway or will he hope the rains will be normal and not test his production methods?

John Walter posted recently about being dismayed at the erosion he saw after the early spring rains this year.  Those rains pushed some conservation efforts over the edge - the farmer hadn't done enought for that extra wet time.

People who believe that coercion is needed are greatly in favor of linking conservation program compliance with crop insurance.

Nebraska posted about a government that forced people to stockpile manure until a certain when he thought conditions called for application.  Government may not always know best and if it does it may not be able to change it's procedures to act in the best interests.

How do these concepts all tie together?  Are we good enough stewards that we don't need government?  Do we trust a government that is not perfect when it's our livelihood at risk?

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Honored Advisor

Re: The Dust Bowl and the Government

The book concentrates on the disaster, and leads one to believe that the government programs implemented were not effective in changing the ongoing weather problem or the economic crisis.  I would say that is true.  

But,        what the movie shows( missed in the book) is that the government programs were effective in pumping a little survival money and encouragement to fight the mental battle for survival.  I also appreciated the movie mentioning the the university research leadership done at panhandle state and other schools which were probably funded or at least supported by federal funds.

IMO-- This was more of a FEMA type disaster than an ag department issue.

 

The land center of the film can be very misleading.  In the 20's, just as the 60's, can go for years at 28-32 inches of rain with moderate wind, humidity, and water fowl migrations.  Then suddenly 4 years of less than 10 inches.  You always farm for the "what ifs"----What if it doesn't rain.  

Example for your last questions

In 1996, in mid December, the wind blew 65+ miles per hour for 72 continuous hours---------------------- It happened two more times,  the static electricity killed a beautiful wheat crop by the third blow in February, in March the 4 th time the wind only lasted 50 hours.  Spring brought a little moisture and a great milo crop was raised on those acres that were formerly wheat.  BECAUSE of much better farming practices( crop rotations, residue management , better planting options), better equipment, and wise management------ 1996 was a non-event to those of us not in the middle of those winds.

The work programs like wpa were in fact "welfare with dignity".  They had positive mental and economic value in such an extreme diseaster.

Are government programs vital without the extreme diseaster?  Do we need to encourage each other when disaster overtakes us? ABSOLUTELY----in whatever way we can.  BUTTTTTTTTT

Keep in mind that a government program, right now---- in that same area, is paying farmers to bail their precious residue and sell it !!!

---------------------

 

The greed issue, or high priced land probably don't cause poor stewardship as much as investment ownership and desperation farming.

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Senior Contributor

Re: The Dust Bowl and the Government

Guys, this conversation has really been fun. Great to hear so many fascinating stories and great insights. Makes me wonder something else: relating to the experiences you've heard about and all the stories you've heard from family, neighbors and others, what single piece of advice would you all offer a farmer -- young, beginning or otherwise -- to avoid laying the groundwork for another potential Dust Bowl? Seems to be an awful lot of ideas -- from tillage to overall agricultural philosophies -- that could have a big influence. Frankly, I'm just fascinated by this whole topic. Like I said, this conversation has really been fascinating to me. 

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Honored Advisor

Re: The Dust Bowl and the Government

advice------- Think and plan,  know what you will do when the unthinkable happens.  And be greatful when it doesn't.

I have summerfallowed for two years waiting for rain and I have harvested 50 bu. wheat and followed it with a double crop milo at 70 bu.  You take care of the land first, be greatful for the opportunities you get and stay able to be patient.

---------------

Jeff,

The importance of the depression and dust bowl is how it still affects us in more ways than we can number.  

Example----------- My wife and I were born in '51.  She is from central Ks.  I grew up 50 miles from Guymon, Okla.  If you look in our kitchen you can tell who unloaded the dishwasher.  She puts the glasses away standing up.  I put them upside down and always will.

Advisor

Re: The Dust Bowl and the Government

Intelligence and common sense are not exclusive with each other.  Plus, it's not that we need government to tell us what is best for the land, but there is a time when conditions are such that regardless whether individual choices are by themselves well made, the overall good of the nation is more important than allowing people to fail.  The nation's infrastructure and national security is at risk.  Additionally, it is not a question of moral hazard, but one of preventing a total collapse.

 

Though it's slightly off topic, I find it ironic that some people who espouse a libertarian philosophy when it comes to politics, readily take advantage of government programs when made available.  If you read the expose' on the Koch brothers in the Wichita Eagle, you would read about it firsthand.  They fervently believe in limited government, but have no scruples in collecting ethanol subsidies and oil subisidies.  They justify it by saying they would be placed in an economic disadvantage with their competitors.  Their conviction about limited government is shallow, at best.  They have no skin in the game.

 

Back to the issue at hand, government, through land grants, the extension and other entitities can promote dialogue and encourage experimentation with best management practices.  Private companies certainly engage in this arena, but they have a dog in the fight, to sell product.  Government can and should be as objective as it can and allow the farmer the opportunity to check out the data without coercion.

 

 

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Senior Advisor

Re: Anyone watch Dust Bowl on PBS?


@Jeff_a_Caldwell wrote:

I loved that show last night. Can't wait to see it again tonight. I grew up out there in No Man's Land (though north of where the show focuses) and used to travel that whole Panhandle region a lot. Been through Boise City many a time. I can recall my granddad telling me about when they'd have to shoot the cattle like they talked about last night. I can hardly fathom the pain that would cause a guy who's poured his life into it. 

 

Pretty amazing stories, though. I'm proud to say I come from the stock that survived that thing. The timing of this all is interesting too -- my dad, who grew up in Oklahoma, gave me a bunch of old family photos the other day, including this one, my great, great grandfather. You can almost hear him saying "quit your back-talkin' unless you want to taste the business end of this cane!"

 

189736_10151330794352386_644543577_n.jpg

 

Anybody else have any family stories from the Dust Bowl days? 


The first year my grand father planted hybrid seed corn was 1936. Was a terrible dry year here in east central IN. My dad's brother was 19 years old. He was rather tall for those days standing about 6-2. The corn was very short and shucking it by hand was a killer on my uncle's back. He told grandpa if he planted that hybrid crap again next year he would shuck it by himself. My grandpa was a rather stubborn man and planted the hybrid corn again the next year. My uncle joined the navy.

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