At a recent screening of Ken Burns' new documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” I realized how preventable the Dust Bowl was. Without government subsidies and encouragement, farmers wouldn't have been so eager to plow up millions of acres of native grassland during the 1920s. Had there been grasslands left to hold the soil in place, the drought that began in 1931 wouldn't have wreaked the havoc it did. I worry that we may be repeating these same mistakes. Many of today's farmers seem eager to take advantage of high commodity prices by converting every last foot of land, even long-established shelterbelts, into cropland.
In addition, members of Congress passed out of committee earlier this year a farm bill that didn't include two critical soil conservation measures: Sodsaver and Conservation Compliance. Sodsaver would limit subsidies for cropping grasslands that have never been cultivated. Conservation Compliance says that farmers will implement measures to minimize erosion on their most erosion-prone fields and refrain from draining wetlands, if they want to get taxpayer subsidies.
Both provisions need to be added to the 2012 farm bill. These two measures are vital to protect what remains of our native grassland, safeguard erodible land and maintain healthy, resilient soil. The message from those who suffered so immensely during the Dust Bowl is clear. We owe it to future generations to be good stewards of the land.
Ron Suttles, Luther