“Out of the long list of nature’s gifts to man, none is perhaps so utterly essential to human life as soil.” – Hugh Hammond Bennett, first chief of the Soil Conservation Service
Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns’ latest project, “The Dust Bowl,” premiers on PBS on November 18-19. The film focuses on what PBS calls “the worst man made disaster in American history.” Although the film centers on stories of generations past, many parallels exist between the circumstances that led to the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s and today. The U.S. is experiencing its second year of widespread, catastrophic drought with more than 64 percent of the nation in “moderate” or worse drought conditions. At the same time, farmers are being asked to feed a hungry world by maximizing production on every available acre.
While many factors contributed to the Dust Bowl, farmers today have advantages that did not exist back then. Most significant among them is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Established by the Soil Conservation Act in 1935, the NRCS (originally the Soil Conservation Service) is the federal agency whose mission is to help farmers improve, protect and conserve fragile natural resources like soil and water upon which we all depend.
Farmers today work in cooperation with NRCS and local soil and water conservation districts and have made great strides in protecting farmland, improving soil health and caring for the land.
The financial resources for these efforts come from the farm bill, a piece of legislation that Congress writes every five years to establish farm and food policy. Congress has an opportunity this year to extend and fund several key conservation programs through the farm bill. American Farmland Trust has been actively engaged in this legislative process to craft conservation programs that are efficient and effective in delivering good conservation results on the landscape.
Lack of a farm bill will not only hamper the ability for farmers to make continued improvements but also poses potential setbacks. Farm bill conservation programs are proven farmland-protection programs. They give farmers the vital tools they need to provide multiple environmental benefits including protecting and improving the soil, keeping water clean and creating abundant wildlife habitat.
Maintaining and strengthening the conservation programs being considered in this year’s farm bill will help protect our soil and water for future generations. We encourage you to watch Mr. Burns’ film, “The Dust Bowl,” and consider the importance of continued investment in federal farm conservation programs.
More information on “The Dust Bowl” including videos, photo galleries, interactive material and information on when you can view it on your local station is available on the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl/
About the Author: Jeremy Peters is Director of Federal Policy at American Farmland Trust.