Can Farms Bounce Back from Storms Like Sandy?

marshallz10(z9-10 CA)October 31, 2012

Tom Philpott has an interesting article on the stresses of chaotic weather on farming and ranching. He makes a good point that industrial forms of production are not very resilient in the face of such weather because they operate on the assumption of cheap inputs and good weather. We are in the age of rising energy and other input costs and chaotic weather. Will the country's farmers and ranches adopt a better agronomic model in time?

Here is a link that might be useful: Can farms bounce back from storms like Sandy?

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You made me wonder about this marshall. I can remember growing up in Kentucky and everyone would wish for some river bottom land for farming. The rivers would overflow their banks and deposit this rich silt. Then when we moved to south Louisiana, an area that had hurricanes and flooding and no levees, it was the same thing. The river would overflow, leave that dirt behind, and it was said you could stick a splinter in the ground and grow a tree. Things are much different now. Something I haven't thought of in years. We can't tame the weather.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 10:44AM
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Interesting to contemplate a solution - I'd argue that the most sustainable model for farming would be pretty much what we had around WWII, where the farms were still relatively small and diversified growing crops and raising animals, mostly 'organic' in the sense they depended on own-farm generated manures for fertilizers, and what ever pesticides were used were used in extreme cases.

Maybe thats through rose-colored glasses, but I live in an area where these last few farmers from that era are only now selling out to real estate development. I try to glean as much info from them as I can - they grew up in the Depression, and know an awful lot about growing things here.

But wouldn't these huge, adverse natural weather events do the same number on small farms? Farmers are going to adapt to what ever grows in their particular temperature/soils/moisture regime, so they're pretty much growing the same things - maybe different breeds of cattle, but still cattle.

Looking locally, when we get a drought, everybody is in the same drought, so no hay, no alfalfa, no pasture. I suppose on a small, diversified farm, you could still eat apples, raise chickens, and grow tomatoes to survive, but that doesn't put beef on the market.

A propose droughts, while the eastern half of the country is getting some 'relief' with this storm, we're still teetering on the edge of catastrophic drought here in the SW - rivers are at or near record low flows, reservoirs way down, guys have been selling off their herds, and if we don't get a good snowy winter, we're going to be in big trouble.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 10:51AM
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David, the amount of knowledge we're losing as these small farms go the way of expensive real estate is priceless and unrecoverable.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 10:54AM
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But that is it isn't it david. I lived on a tobacco farm. But tobacco wasn't everything. We sold milk and cattle, raised pigs, a huge garden. Small farmers don't tend to put all their eggs in one basket because they know the whims of nature. But then they can't compete with the big guys either.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 10:56AM
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Well, the only historic time I can think of that might be comparable to the climate change turmoil we're seeing now would be the Dust Bowl - and that did a number on a huge swath of the country, wiping out tens of thousands of small farmers and massive migrations, depopulation, etc.

Around here, we didn't have the guys plowing up the land to plant wheat, but we had a massive drought here as well, with people driving their wagons 20 miles up the river to fetch water. The guys were selling their animals to the Government for a dollar or two a head, which was better than watching them starve.

Looking at the current drought map, ya gotta wonder.....

Here is a link that might be useful: link to current drought situation

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 11:48AM
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I think the 1950's as well as the 30's were considered to be worse droughts than we are seeing in this decade. I think the difference is in the recovery, and that might be due to population growth, or the fact the small farms are becoming nonexistent.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 12:50PM
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You ain't seen nothin' yet... give it another decade...

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 6:04PM
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Ken Burns is doing a documentary on PBS on the Dust Bowl in November. He has lots of wonderful footage. I didn't know people died from the dust in their lungs and the dirt traveled to the east coast.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 2:32AM
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Will the country's farmers and ranches adopt a better agronomic model in time?

Based on this article I just read in The WSJ (their paywall has been taken down for now) my answer is "no". The current farming practices will continue as long as the prices for yield remain high.

Here is some advice for those considering investing in farm land:

"For investors who are still interested, the biggest challenge may be what to buy. For nonfarmers it's harder to do the detailed research necessary for a smart purchase, from the evaluation of the soil and the sustainability of the land to finding the right tenant to farm the acres, Mr. Taylor says.

They don't expound on the meaning of sustainability of the land, so it's possible that land that has been farmed without reliance on heavy inputs, ie organic could be considered more sustainable therefore, more valuable.

Here is a link that might be useful: wsj

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 6:41AM
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I see that they're comparing the current mid-west drought to the 50's drought.

Its here in 2002 that NOAA coined the phrase "exceptional drought" - 2 inches of moisture in 18 months and the sage brush was dying - along with a massive die-off of the pinion trees, and the onslaught of the assorted pine beetles, which still continues. Right now, river flows are lower then they were in 2002, reservoirs down to the same levels or worse. If we don't get snow this winter, we're going to have a drought far worse than 2002.

Lilly, you might enjoy reading a book called "The Worst Hard Time" about the Dust Bowl. People consider the gulf oil spill the worst man-made natural disaster, but the Dust Bowl was arguably far worse.

Here is a link that might be useful: link to Amazon review

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 10:36AM
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