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Drought and Floods Affect US Farmers: Crop Insurance, Improved Farming Methods, and Assistance are the Response


Because of ongoing drought conditions since last year in the United States (44 percent of the nation is still in drought), some farmers in California have switched irrigation methods to "dry farming," a time-tested technique that relies on rain water conservation to supply crops with the moisture they need to grow. While it relies on rainfall patterns, which can be sporadic, the technique creates water retention ponds on agricultural land and regenerates dwindling ground water in dry areas.  

"According to a study by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, a 250-acre vineyard practicing dry farming in Napa has conserved roughly 64,000 gallons of water per acre each year. About 2,000 out of half a million acres of vineyards are dry-farmed," writes Aviva Shen for ThinkProgress.

Two months ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a grant program, Conservation Innovation Grants, to develop new approaches and technologies to make the farming industry better-adapted to climate change, including drought conditions.

"USDA is working diligently to help American farmers and ranchers rebound from last year's drought and prepare for future times of climatic extremes. Conservation Innovation Grants are an excellent way to invest in new technology and approaches that will help our farmers, ranchers and rural communities be more resilient in the future," announced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Grant recipients for 2013 include several Southern and Midwestern university research centers, working on connecting weather stations to irrigation scheduling and allowing farmers to measure water conservation, as well as the Intertribal Buffalo Council, spanning 57 tribes in 19 states.


The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports that drought has far-reaching economic, environmental and social impacts, including increases in food prices, related business deterioration, habitat loss, soil erosion and poor water quality and access to clean water.


According to the USDA, about 80 percent of agricultural land experienced drought in 2012, conditions not seen since the 1950s. Two thousand US counties were designated as disaster areas, and 67 percent of cattle and 70-75 percent of corn and soybean production was affected. The summer months were the driest, putting 28 percent of the affected farms in exceptional (worse than severe) drought conditions.

U.S. farmers have been relying on federal programs, such as the crop insurance program to protect their crops. According to Farm Industry News, "as of May 6, 2013 more than 240,000 crop insurance policies have been purchased," particularly in Kansas, Texas, California, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Florida. In 2012, 86 percent of planted crop land, equaling 281 million acres, was insured under the federal program. The new insurance policies purchased since May 6 represent a 30 percent increase in insured farmland.

The tide turned this spring for some Midwestern areas, when torrential rains made it difficult to farmers to plant their crops.

"Ideally, farmers need the top two to four inches of soil to be dry when they are planting so that when they drive their tractors in the field they do not pack down the mud, which prevents the roots from getting oxygen. Oversaturated earth also means that pockets where oxygen can filter through to help the roots breathe will instead be filled with water," writes John Eligon for The New York Times.

As of May 12, 2013, only 28 percent of the nation's crop had been planted, compared with 85 percent last year.