Stockholm International Water Institute

Drought Hits the Heartland of USA


Worldwide, 2012 has been the year of drought. From the Midwest of the USA to the granaries of the Black Sea, from South Asia to the Sahel region of Africa, producers the world over have had to find ways to farm their land in the face of ravaging droughts or feeble monsoons. Both largeholders in food exporting regions and small-holders in poor countries have been hit by these droughts, which have had significant impacts on local and global food prices and thus on food security throughout the world, with potentially more impacts still to come.

As farmers the world over struggle to cope with this latest climatic challenge, the drought also vividly emphasises to policy makers the need to better address what will undoubtedly be one of the most urgent challenges of the 21st century, with staggering social, political, environmental, and economic implications: how to ensure and sustain global food security in the face of increasing climate variability and growing competition for scarce water resources.

The US drought

Perhaps the most significant of all the droughts to hit the world in 2012, at least in terms of its global and local impacts, has been the drought in the American heartland. As farmers began planting crops this past spring, a cautious optimism filled the air. Seed varieties adapted to regional weather extremes stabilised yields. Initial expectations suggested corn yields averaging a record 10,550 kilogrammes per hectare. Then came July and that excitement was quickly extinguished. The Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado chewed through 7,000 hectares of wilderness and forced 32,000 residents to flee their homes. Sparse rains left scanty forage, on which cattle graze, forcing Texas ranchers to prematurely sell off entire herds of cattle. But the waves of heat were hardly confined to Colorado and Texas. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, by mid-July, a record 81 per cent of the contiguous US was abnormally dry or in drought.

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