Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land

Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land

Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land

Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land

Synopsis

In this new, enlarged edition, John Opie updates his groundbreaking work on the environmental history of the Ogallala aquifer and plains farming. He addresses the impact of the 1996 Farm Bill (Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act) and looks at the recent movement of industrial hog farming onto the plains. Opie also develops his argument for the plains as a "moral geography", a view involving the recognition by society that it has an obligation to balance the responsibility for conserving natural resources with that for keeping a regional people -- the family farmers -- in operation.

Excerpt

As many readers of the first edition of this book suspected, it was a work in progress. It still is. This book must reflect both continuity and flux of a region that depends heavily upon natural forces like soil and climate. Our story also must account for intensive and often capricious human disturbance of the plains and its groundwater. Since publication of the first edition in 1993 (actual research closed about mid-1991) several predictions unfortunately came true. These events are covered in the materials added to this edition (the update takes us through mid-1999). Chapter 8 in the first edition, on the drought of 1988, anticipated the severe multiyear drought cycle that did take hold in the mid-1990s. Folks in western Kansas saw no rain at all from October 1995 until April 1996. Wheat prices went through the roof, bringing over five dollars a bushel, but it made little difference to regional dryland farmers with little to sell.

On the other hand, the second half of Chapter 6, which focused on federal protection for family farmers in hard times, did not anticipate the turnabout in federal farm policies that will have enormous implications: the 1996 farm bill pulled apart the federal price supports, loan guarantees, and crop insurance that had been in place for fifty years. These supports are scheduled to be phased out over the seven years following passage of the bill. But this "Freedom to Farm" bill immediately released farmers to plant crops without . . .

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