The Dust Bowl
These familiar images of the Dust Bowl tell a portion of history in the midwest during what came to be know as the "Dirty Thirties". Conservationists and historians have studied the influences that changing economics, technology, weather patterns, and farming techniques had in what many think is a man-made disaster.
The 1930's saw the birth of conservation organizations, led by Hugh Hammond Bennett and others.
Every farmer should know the importance of soil conservation and its impact on plant growth. But when did we learn that important lesson? It was during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930‘s in the central United States.
To learn more about the Dust Bowl and how it influences farming today, visit the links below.
Hugh H. Bennett in a field about four miles south of Haskell, Okla., in May 1943. It was estimated that about 75 percent of the topsoil had eroded from this field. (J.W. Hammett, SCS.)
Hugh Hammond Bennett, who would come to be known as “the father of soil conservation”, was one of the first people in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration in the 1930s who realized the extent of the damage inflicted on the southern plains by the drought and dust storms, and who grasped the impact it would have on the average American.
Bennett had begun his campaign to preserve the soil by reforming farming practices before Roosevelt became president. He had joined the Department of Agriculture in the early 1900s. His mission to address the problems of land depletion was spurred on by the 1909 Bureau of Soils announcement, “The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses. It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted; that cannot be used up.” Throughout his career, Bennett worked to prove just how wrong this statement was.
In 1933 Bennett was made director of the newly formed Soil Erosion Service, which worked to combat erosion caused by dust storms, by reforming farming methods. “...Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race or people, barbaric or civilized,” he announced, calling for “a tremendous national awakening to the need for action in bettering our agricultural practices.”
Although his criticisms of Dust Bowl farming techniques raised the backs of farmers, he saw his reforms as necessary to avoid similar catastrophes in the future.
Bennett gained the support of Congress with the help of a providentially timed storm from the plains that hit Washington, D.C. in May 1934, while he was testifying before a congressional committee. Experiencing a debilitating dust storm for the first time in the Capital, Congress put its weight behind the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, which focused on improving farming techniques.
Bennett was a champion of soil conservation methods, to the extent that he favored reverting a large part of the Great Plains back to grasslands. He wrote in 1943, “If we are bold in our thinking, courageous in accepting new ideas, and willing to work with instead of against our land, we shall find in conservation farming an avenue to the greatest food production the world has ever known – not only for the war, but for the peace that is to follow.”
"The Plow That Broke the Plains"
This film, created by documentarian Pare Lorentz and backed by the United States government, tells how and why the Great Plains had been settled and then brought to ruination. The film was influential in bringing about the establishment of the Soil Conservation Service as established with the Soil Conservation Act of 1935.
Additional Dust Bowl Resources:
American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl
Pare Lorentz, Poet and Filmmaker
Lesson plans for Gr. 8-12 - http://newdeal.feri.org/nchs/lesson01.htm
Dust Bowl Bibliography for Adults and Children.docx
There are many resources available for learning more about the Dust Bowl and conservation efforts and organizations. Click on the button to download a brochure listing some.