Coping with Drought, Lessons from the Dust Bowl
This summer's drought continues to wilt and bake crops from Ohio to the Great Plains and beyond. Under a baking, late-afternoon sun just outside of the tiny east-central Illinois town of Thawville, John Hildenbrand walks down his dusty, gravel driveway toward one of his corn fields.
"You can see on the outer edge, these are a lot better-looking ears on the outside rows. Of course, it's not near as hot as it is inside the field," he says.
Walking deeper into the 7-foot-high corn stalks, the temperature — already in the 90s — becomes stifling. Here, the ears are smaller. Peeling back the husks on an undersized ear of corn, Hildenbrand exposes kernels that are drying up.
"It just never really matured," he says. "And [if] we got out in there farther, it's gonna be just that much less."
More than 63 percent of the country in the lower 48 states is experiencing drought, leading some to compare the summer of 2012 to the droughts of the 1950s and even the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.
John's father, Charles Hildenbrand, was born and raised on this land and farmed these fields for decades — as did his father before him. The 84-year-old was too young to remember much about the Dust Bowl droughts of the 1930s — other than he and his father dragged their mattresses outdoors to sleep at night.
But he says even though this year's drought is the worst he's ever seen, today's hybrid corn is surviving better than the corn he and his father planted ever could.
Parched corn image via Shutterstock.
Story continues at NPR.