Weathering Through the American Drought
Say the word drought and the images come readily to mind: brown, brittle plants fighting against the wind; a Dust-Bowl-era farmer guiding a plow that scrapes through cement-like dirt, billows of dust behind him marking a trail of disappointment.
And when we think of these images, we often think of developing nations — African and Asian nations whose traditional agrarian societies are only just starting to taste the fruits of science-based farming and modern irrigation techniques.
But as anyone who works on one of California's some 80,500 farms can tell you: Living off arid land is more and more becoming a daily experience in America.
California's Drought Persists
California, a state that single-handedly produces 11 percent of America's agricultural market—$44.7 billion worth of crops according to 2013 reports, the latest available—is currently suffering through the third year of a devastating drought. Much of California's cropland is irrigated, but diminished reservoirs mean limited allocations to farmers and valuable acres have been idled during this period.
The latest reports from the USDA's Drought Mitigation Center say nearly 95 percent of California remains under a "severe" drought. Even after early winter rains, nearly a third of the state is still listed under "exceptional" drought conditions—the center's most severe category—and scientists predict it will take years for California to return to standard irrigation and water levels.
"Farmers are suffering from well failure and having to truck in water," Tricia Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County (Calif.) Farm Bureau told The Los Angeles Times. "They are juggling tough decisions based on the cost of water."
Protecting the Global Food Supply
If man-made climate change is at least partly to blame for California's drought is beside the point: Drought cycles are a part of American agriculture and have been for decades. While, in the past, American farmers and consumers have weathered these disruptions, increasing societal pressures and competing demands for fresh water are making drought-resistant farming techniques a must-have in domestic production.
As the world population increases—we’re expected to add another 2 billion people by 2050—mankind can no longer afford to lose an estimated $13 billion in crop damages per year because of drought, as we currently do.
The Drought Research Council (DRC) — a group of university and private and public industry experts in the field of drought and agronomic research—recently published its first historical study of drought severity with the goal of creating a list of priorities in the fight to protect the global food supply from drought damage.
The findings? To ensure global food security in the face of periodic droughts and limited-water availability, the DRC says the world’s leading private and public researchers need to focus on:
- Improved genetics for crops
- Better crop innovations that lead to drought tolerance
- Breeding and management techniques for different drought severities
To this last point, DuPont Pioneer has used its exclusive Accelerated Yield Technology approach to produce Optimum® AQUAmax® corn hybrids*—plants that can survive in water-limited environments, but also thrive in favorable, standard growing climates.
So while Californians debate the best way to survive a now-three year-old drought, the rest of us would do well to remember we are not outsiders to this discussion. Some 85 percent of global corn production will experience some level of drought stress this year—and that’s a food fight we all have a stake in.
(*Product performance in water-limited environments is variable and depends on many factors such as the severity and timing of moisture deficiency, heat stress, soil type, management practices and environmental stress as well as disease and pest pressures. All hybrids may exhibit reduced yield under water and heat stress. Individual results may vary.)