The High Plains in southeastern Colorado were the heart of the 1930s Dust Bowl, and conditions today are as dry as they were 70 years ago. John Stulp, a wheat farmer, says, “We had to come out here with a chisel and chisel up these dirt clods, bring them up on the surface to keep the topsoil from blowing around.” Stulp says his farm hasn’t received any measurable rain in nearly a year and he’s already lost his winter wheat crop.
In the nearby Arkansas River Valley, corn farmer Bob Wilger has the same problem?no water. The Amity Canal, built in 1860, usually carries runoff from melted mountain snow, but this year it has delivered only one “run.” “I’m not sure how we’ll get through it all, ” Wilger says. “We’ll find a way, but I don’t know how it will all come about.”
“Everyone’s going to hurt before this is over,” says Chad Hart, a USDA Farm Service Agency representative. “But I don’t think people are going to want more loans to survive because they’ve already got more than enough debt.”
Bill Redeker in abcnews.com writes that cattle ranchers also are also hurting. In La Junta, Colorado, the Winter Livestock Sales Barn is auctioning off 8,000 head of cattle every week. Ranchers who have no water and no grazing land are selling their cows to other ranchers from states where water and feed are more plentiful.
Gordon Lambath had to auction off 65 head of cattle, mostly mothers and their calves. He says, “I’ve been in this area for 22 years and I’ve never seen it this bad. It’s very, very depressing but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
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Deadly traffic accidents across drought-stricken Nebraska are being blamed on blinding dust storms. The government has asked motorists to stay off the highways on windy days. “It’s a terrible year. Nebraska is caught in the death grip of a drought and the topsoil gets blown around to where it’s similar to a blizzard – visibility gets down to zero,” says Capt. Darrell Fisher of the Nebraska Highway Patrol. He says patrolmen who went to the scene of the accident returned with blackened faces and dirt caked in their ears. “It was like they had been working in a mine.”
“We’ve issued advisories asking motorists not to drive unless they have to,” says Terri Teuber of the Highway Patrol. The advisories were prompted by a 10-vehicle pileup in which two men died when a dense dust cloud blinded drivers.
The cool, dry spring has slowed the growth of seedlings, and 42 percent of Nebraska’s wheat crop is in poor to very poor condition. Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska says, “It has been dry, and when farmers turn the soil it’s exposed to the wind. When winds got to 40 to 50 mph that soil was going to blow.”
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