The drought of 2012 has launched a bumper crop of comparisons to droughts of the past.  First, we compared this year to 1988, the worst drought in most Iowans’ memories. Eventually, we all started linking the 2012 drought to the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, the devastating era we all learned about in our history books.

The 2012 drought is certainly a tough one and it’s clear that scorching heat and lack of rain will reduce corn and soybean harvests in Iowa and other Midwestern states. But farmers in Iowa and around the Midwest are much better prepared for drought and other weather disasters than their fathers and grandfathers.  And that’s good news for consumers.

Here are some facts:

  • Some 15 million acres of Iowa land is farmed using conservation tillage that helps conserve moisture and nutrients, even in a tough year like 2012.

  • Farmers have adopted the latest seed genetics, which are able to withstand drought, insects and disease (crop killers that often accompany droughts) much better than only a few years ago.

  • High-tech precision agriculture, like GPS and computer generated field grids, help farmers conserve nutrients. The new equipment also reduces the number of times a farmer needs to drive his equipment in the field, which helps the soil conserve moisture.

  • Livestock and dairy farmers have also become far more efficient, which is helping them conserve feed and offset some of the dramatic rise in feed prices caused by the drought.

Consumers are likely to feel some impact from the drought of 2012 in higher food prices. But farmers’ continual adoption of technology and productivity means that the drought will have less of a negative impact on food availability and costs than historic droughts, like 1988 or those in the 1930s. And it’s important to remember that, drought or no drought, Americans continue to have a wide array of affordable food choices; choices that are ancestors could only dream about.

Yes, the drought of 2012 has been one for the history books. But without continual investments and adaptions by farmers, it could have been a lot worse for consumers.

Here’s a quick look at how much better U.S. agriculture is positioned than in previous droughts.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.