After a very wet spring in 2011 that delayed planting, the 2012 crop season looked promising as planting conditions were optimal. The outlook was refreshing as it meant few setbacks on the crop. However, the good conditions during planting quickly turned as our family waited and waited for moisture. Unfortunately, when the rains did arrive, they were few and far between.
This has turned into the worst drought our family has seen in generations. And more importantly, the drought this year is not isolated to my local community - our nation has not faced a drought this severe since the 1930s when the Dust Bowl completely devastated American agriculture. July temperatures reportedly broke records set during the Dust Bowl. During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated roughly half of all U.S. counties - 1,496 in 33 states - as disaster areas because of the drought.
Our current hot and dry conditions are unlike what our country has experienced for decades. And it's true that it is significantly impacting farmers' and ranchers' livelihoods. It's also true that for some types of food, the American people could feel it in our wallets in the coming months (or years), with the USDA predicting that consumers can expect to pay up to 4 percent more for groceries in 2013.
But the impact on consumers, overall food prices and the toll on our daily lives are minimal compared to the devastating hardship that Americans faced during the 1930s. This drought - while difficult for some farmers and ranchers who are suffering severe crop losses and faced with selling livestock they have been building for generations - may be only minor for most Americans. Why?
Our entire food ecosystem is better equipped than ever to withstand potentially catastrophic events. That is thanks to a commitment to continuous improvement from generations of America's farmers, ranchers and the others focused on the farm and their careful stewardship of the land as they grow and raise food.
Many innovations - some developed during the drought of the 1930s - are helping to shield farming and ranching operations from the worst of our current drought, including sophisticated water management, pest control, soil conservation, modern seed varieties and hybrids, and food distribution.
Water management improves every year. Farmers and ranchers have developed the world's most complex, efficient water management systems. Many farmers now use high-tech conservation solutions such as GPS programming for variable rate irrigation (VRI) systems to map out their farmland and pinpoint what areas require what amounts of water. With the use of GPS, farmers know exactly what, how much, and where to use any and all inputs (water, fertilizer and more). GPS allows farmers using these technologies to locate the soil's needs down to the square foot, reducing environmental impact and conserving natural resources.
In 1936, bugs and other natural predators wiped out what few crops were left after the Dust Bowl swept through. Today, farmers and ranchers use precise and carefully calculated methods for controlling bugs, making sure their crops - which make their way to our kitchen tables - grow healthy and protected.
This year on our farm we have had to carefully monitor our fields for insects that thrive during dry weather like spider mites, and determine when it was necessary treat portions of the field before they destroyed the entire field. In some situations, that was a tough decision, as we were trying to save a crop that already seemed doomed to fail.