Soaked in Drought: Lessons From the Dust Bowl : NPR
John’s father, Charles Hildenbrand, was born and raised on this land and farmed these very fields for decades, as did his father before him. The 84-year-old was too young to remember much about the Dust Bowl droughts of the 1930s — other than he and his father dragged their mattresses outdoors to sleep at night.
But he says even though this year’s drought is the worst he’s ever seen, today’s hybrid corn is surviving better than the corn he and his father planted ever could.
“If this would’ve been open pollinated, it would have been all brown, probably. And there probably wouldn’t be any kernels on these ears,” he says. “The cobs is about all that would be there, I’m afraid.”
The development of hybrid crops that are better able to withstand heat and drought is one of the only reasons the Hildenbrands have a chance of a small crop this year. And it’s one of the most important developments in farming since those devastating droughts of yore.
In the ’30s and ’40s, Charles Hildenbrand used horses, replaced today by tractors, combines and planters with high-tech gadgets and computers. So is it even fair to compare this summer’s drought to the devastating droughts on the 1950s, or even the Dust Bowl years?
“Certainly from a geographical footprint, it’s right up there with the ’50s and ’30s at over 60 percent,” says climatologist Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“But the ’30s and ’50s were multi-year droughts,” he says, “and this drought, so far for the majority of the country, is not a multi-year drought yet.”