U.S. farmers are putting aside politics and arming themselves for volatile weather that they expect will be the new normal.
Intense heat waves, droughts and floods have led to erratic yields in California, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and other agricultural states. Expecting that trend to continue, farmers big and small are investing in ways to preserve water in their soil, plant crops more quickly and irrigate more efficiently.
“We are watching springs dry up,” says Pat O’Toole, a Savery, Wyo., rancher, who uses portable, solar-powered pumps to retrieve groundwater for his 6,000 sheep and 1,000 cows. “We are aggressively looking at our whole operation.”
The year 2012, with its record-setting heat wave and drought, was a turning point for many. Growers in 22 states suffered what federal agencies considered “crop failure,” the worst agricultural calamity since a severe dry spell in 1988. At $31.8 billion in damage, the 2012 drought was the seventh-costliest natural disaster since federal records began to rank them in 1980.