Although the heat wave imperils harvests, irrigation might not come to the rescue

A pivoting irrigation system near distributes water over an Oklahoma field that will soon be plowed and planted.

Story and photos by Gary Rich

ABC World News reported July 5 on effects of the extreme heat that has stretched from Colorado throughout the Midwest. Correspondent Alex Perez talked with Manhattan, Ill., farmer Dave Kestel, who said that without rain in the next couple of weeks his corn crop would be history. The report observed that three-quarters of the U.S. is in drought. There is not much hope for any moisture in the upcoming weeks.

Humans must have water. Crops must have water for growth. When you do not have water, things will perish.

Some agricultural land is irrigated. But there have been complaints that the farmers are reducing the water tables. Colorado has banned irrigation along the South Platte River. Farmers in Weld County requested that Governor John Hickenlooper issue an emergency order authorizing irrigation so their crops can be saved, but he replied that he lacks authority to do so.

Eastern Colorado, western Kansas, and the Oklahoma panhandle, as well as many other areas, use pivot irrigation. The farmer taps a well for water, which is distributed over a field through a pivoting sprinkler arm. From the air, these irrigated areas appear as lush circles. The outskirts of the circles are left barren.

Corn is used for animal feed, making ethanol, and other uses. If this 2012 corn crop fails, it will affect not only agriculture, but other industries as well. If we have a corn shortage, foodstuffs and products made from corn will rise in price. The drought will affect other crops, too, such as milo, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and even popcorn.

One wonders: with so much of the United States having a drought, are we headed into another Dust Bowl era, like the 1930s? We certainly hope not!