'How bad is it?' I have asked a lot of farmers that question during the drought of 2012.
Most tell me it’s pretty bad. It's common to hear corn farmers say they've lost half their crop.
Livestock farmers are facing feed shortages and higher costs; some may have to sell off animals.
At farm stands and farmers markets, growers were challenged to provide the quantity and quality of produce their customers have come to expect.
The pain will be worse for some than for others, but virtually no farmer will go unscathed. Yet, in the midst of widespread devastation, I’ve not had a single farmer tell me it’s going to put them out of business.
In 1956, conditions similar to today’s contributed to one out of every five Ohio farmers calling it quits. Following the 1988 drought, the exodus was one out of ten. So why aren’t today’s farmers departing in droves?
In part, because Americans have recognized that preservation of our food system isn’t just the farmer’s concern; it’s a national responsibility.
It took the mother of all droughts, The Dust Bowl of the 1930s, to raise that awareness. The onslaught of dirt storms, food shortages, uprooted families and high unemployment made it clear that agricultural sustainability was central to American prosperity.
America responded with a national conservation program based on cooperation between the government and individual landowners.
The public’s investment paid off. In the last 25 years, soil erosion declined by 43 percent while food production increased by 39 percent. More than 30 million acres of erodible land is no longer farmed.
Ohio State University and other land grant universities continue to develop and teach farming practices that are both profitable and environmentally sound. And we have food policy that provides certainty to farmers and the nation.
At the same time, farmers have made their own investments in improved seeds, precision technology and sophisticated equipment. These new tools and new methods mean they and we are better prepared for nature’s challenges.
Yes, the drought of 2012 is and will remain a hardship. Farmers will tighten their belts. And we all might have to pay a little more at the grocery store until the next harvest.
But, like The Dust Bowl of the 1930s, this year’s drought renewed our appreciation for our natural resources. It demonstrated the value of public policy that supports our food system.
And most of all it gave us some perspective: That as bad as it is, we’re much better off than we used to be.