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The Dustbowl of America in the 1930s

The Dust Bowl of North America refers to a catastrophe in the early 1930’s when vast areas of the Midwestern and Western farm lands of America became wastelands. This occurred due to a series of dry years which coincided with the extension of agriculture in unsuitable lands. Droughts and dust storms caused by poor tillage practices devastated farms and ranches of the Great Plains; therefore, causing a great exodus of its inhabitants to other, more fertile, lands. The problem had become so great that a nation wide effort was made to resolve the problem. Beginning in 1935, extensive efforts were made by both federal and state governments to develop adequate programs for soil conservation and for the rehabilitation of the dust bowl. Eventually, thanks to government aid, farming became possible again in the Dust Bowl; consequently, farmers have learnt many valuable lessons from this dilemma.

The European settlers who first arrived at the Great Plains found hardy grasslands that held the fine-grained soil in place in spite of the long recurrent droughts and occasional torrential rains. A large number of the travelers settled down in this area and built farms and ranches. These land uses led to soil exposure and great erosion. The cattle ranches were very profitable for the settlers; unfortunately, this led to overgrazing and degradation of the soil. In addition, farmers began to plow the natural grass cover and plant their own crops. Without the original root systems of the grass to anchor the soil, much of it blew away. The wide row crops were very disastrous because between the crops, the land was kept bare; as a result, this area was exposed to the elements. Also, the nutrients in the soil were used up by the plants faster than they could be replaced. The soil had become exhausted.

The Great Plains are a vast expanse of land located in a region east of the Rocky Mountains in North America. Precipitation in the region is sparse because it is found in the rainshadow of the Rockies; as a result, rain is very unpredictable as to when it will fall so farmers had to make due with what they had back in the 1930’s. This lack of water created a hard dry soil that was very difficult to cultivate for agricultural purposes. The farmers, however, continued to cultivate the land and eventually disaster struck. The natural elements wreaked havoc on the exposed soil. Wind erosion blew away the dry and denuded soil and created clouds of dust that could be seen hundreds of miles away. These dust storms and sandstorms battered the settlers and buried their roads and homes in sand. The farmers problems became worse when it occasionally rained. The soil, bereft of its root system, was unable to absorb the water and as a result, the water ran over the surface and carried even more topsoil away.

The disaster that struck the Great Plains in the 1930’s left it without humus, nutrients, and plant cover. The land was un-cultivatable; thus, the government intervened with a number of reforms. They replanted grass and trees together with introducing scientific agricultural methods. The roots would help prevent further erosion. Broad leafed crops such as clover and alfalfa produce organic matter and available nitrogen; accordingly, they were planted and also because they absorb the force of the rain and their roots bind the soil. Another important lesson learnt from the Dust Bowl disaster was the importance of proper schooling. Farmers had to be taught to return wheat stubble and straw after harvesting for organic material and prevention against erosion. Farmers were also taught to contour plow on steeper slopes in order to prevent the rapid run-off of water that would result in erosion. Cattle ranchers were instructed on the importance of controlling the number of animals on their land so overgrazing did not occur. These steps taken by the government helped make the Great Plains fertile once again and today it is thriving. In order for the Dust Bowl catastrophe to be prevented from ever happening again, farmers must be well-taught in the principles of soil conservation. The methods are essential for a healthy and fertile soil which will continue to yield bountiful crops.

The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was an ecological disaster that destroyed the livelihoods of many farmers and ranchers. In an ironic twist, the settlers who inhabited the lands inevitably were the instruments of their own demise. Their lack of knowledge and poor agricultural practices led to the erosion of the Prairies on a massive scale. Great amounts of soil were eroded by both wind and water; however, it was the settlers who allowed this to happen because of farming and ranching techniques. The situation was only resolved after a tremendous effort by the government to solve the predicament. The Dust Bowl catastrophe is a valuable learning experience for farmers and ranchers alike because it demonstrates the dangers of the development of agriculture without proper knowledge. In order for the problem to never arise again, farmers and ranchers must learn from the mistakes of the past.

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