Anticipating drought eases

April 10, 2013

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Farmers make cropping decisions, in part, based on anticipated moisture conditions for the coming growing season. Although on April 4 National Public Radio reported that 2013 would be a record year for acres of corn planted in the U.S., Successful Farming magazine indicated that many farmers would shift toward soybeans in anticipation of a coming drought. According to experts cited in the mid-March edition, they anticipated last year’s drought would continue into this year’s growing season. Its impact was expected to be greater west of Interstate 35 in Iowa.

More recent reports indicate the drought has eased in Illinois (Farm Week, April 1, 2013). However, subsoil moisture has yet to be recharged in many locations (Northern Illinois Ag magazine, Spring, 2013), requiring continued planting adjustments.

Over the longer term, as the planet warms, drought and climate experts indicate we are likely to experience more extreme weather in terms of wet and dry years.

In anticipation of continued drought, some farmers in the Great Plains will plant more soybeans instead of corn. Others will reduce the density of their corn plantings to allow more moisture to serve fewer plants. Some will increase their level of drought insurance while dropping hail insurance, since without rain, there is less likelihood of hail.

Farther east in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, interviewed farmers indicated they were making smaller, but similar, adjustments in their cropping plans for this season.

According to the experts, farmers are always looking ahead, and in many ways are ahead of much of the country in anticipating climate change.

We hear little discussion in urban and suburban settings about how individuals and communities might adapt to another year of drought. The usual response is for political leaders to put lawn sprinkling and car washing bans in place once it is clear a drought is beginning to adversely impact water supplies.

Those of us interested in energy, environment and sustainability issues believe society should reconsider its rather wasteful use of precious water supplies. According to one commentator, the established fashion of large lawns chemically treated and watered regularly to maintain a green appearance throughout the growing season is a cultural relic ill-suited to current resource realities.

Some years ago, friends moved to Phoenix and began watering their lawn, as was their practice in Wisconsin, while wondering why their neighbors left their lawns go brown or had desert plants rather than grass. After their first month’s water bill, they stopped watering their lawn and switched to a dry yard landscape. Increased cost is one means to changing behavior.

Being socialized to being a good neighbor includes keeping one’s lawn clean, green and weed-free. It has evolved to the point where resource-consumptive power mowers, chemical treatments and automatic sprinkling systems are increasingly common. Water suitable for human consumption is squandered on a nonproductive artifact.

Alternative approaches to lawn care minimize resource consumption. Some owners let nature takes its course. They have a lawn, but neither fertilize, herbicide nor water it. If a drought exists, they accept a brown lawn until sufficient rain falls to green it up. Others choose to grow a garden or plant fruit trees in their yard to provide some organic foods for their diet. Some turn their lawns into native landscapes utilizing the plants that are ecologically adapted to our Midwest climate.

As our climate becomes more extreme in terms of heavy rains and droughty conditions, it is the native plants that will thrive with minimal resource consumption and effort, as promoted by The Wild Ones.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the April 10-16, 2013, issue

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