Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 26, 2012
Publication Date: November 16, 2012
Citation: Lal, R., Delgado, J.A., Nielsen, D.C., Rice, C., Van Pelt, R.S. 2012. Adapting agriculture to drought and extreme events. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 67:162A-166A. Interpretive Summary: While devastating crops, disrupting navigation in the Mississippi, and jeopardizing global food security, the drought has also provided an opportunity to revisit agricultural systems of managing soils, crops, water and animals. Are the current practices sustainable, especially under conditions of harsh, uncertain, and abruptly changing climate? Are our agricultural policies compatible with reality? The drought of 2012 should inspire the researchers, extension agents, land managers, and policy makers to revisit these questions. To avoid another “dust bowl” of the 1930s, it is the time to assess the nation’s soil and water resources, and rethink how we use the natural resources. The present drought reminds us that soil and water resources must never be taken for granted. There must be a continuous and open dialogue between researchers on the one hand, and land managers and policy makers on the other. Together, we must move away from a piecemeal and crisis-driven approach, and adopt holistic and integrated national policies aimed at sustainable management of limited and fragile natural resources. Farmers may be appropriately incentivized through payments for generating ecosystem services (e.g., soil C sequestration, improving quantity and quality of renewable fresh water resources, enhancing biodiversity, increasing use-efficiency of inputs). The myopic strategies of short term economic gains must be replaced by those of long -term sustainable use of the finite natural resources of soil and water.
Technical Abstract: The 2012 drought, the worst during the last 80 years or more, remind us of the dust bowl of the 1930s (Figure 1),and indicates that climate change is a reality rather than a distant threat. The last drought of this magnitude may have occurred more than 800 years ago, and the 2012 drought has been dubbed the “century drought.” Many view the 2012 drought as an extension of the exceptional drought of 2011 in Texas and surrounding regions during which time, 7.5 million acres (3 million ha)succumbed to wildfire in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. With business as usual, a drought of this duration, extent and severity will be a common occurrence throughout the 21st century and beyond, and may also be occasionally interrupted by seasons of excessive rains and widespread inundation, as has been the case this summer in the U.K. It is widely argued that the type of extreme events characterized by the 2012 drought in the U.S. and flooding in the U,K. could become the new normal because of the human-induced climate change. There are numerous options to manage soils, crops, animals, and water resources. Conversion to no-till farming (NT), in conjunction with crop residues mulch and cover crops, is an important option. Another strategy is to conserve water in the root zone, and minimize losses by runoff and evaporation, and transform blue and grey (urban) waters into green water. Thus, water conservation, harvesting, and recycling are all important. Integrated nutrient management (INM), a judicious combination of chemical fertilizers with organic amendments (compost, biosolids) is needed to enhance soil organic matter (SOM) content and maximize crop water use efficiency. In addition to time of planting, seeding configuration (bunch planting) and plant populations are appropriate agronomic considerations. Choice of crop species, depending on site-specific considerations, is appropriate to enhance crop diversity including complex crop rotations, agroforestry and integration of crops with livestock and trees.