This summer, West Virginia has been hit hard by a severe drought with serious impacts on crop production across the state. Hay production is off 25 percent or more. Most pasture fields are very dry and several farmers are hauling water for their livestock.
But it's not just in our state. According to the National Climatic Data Center, this is the largest area of drought since the 1950s, with 55 percent of the country in at least moderate short-term drought in June. As a result, authorities have already declared more than 1,000 countries in 26 states as natural disaster areas. This is nearly two-thirds of the land in the lower 48 states.
These conditions are taking a major toll, not only on farmers and ranchers, but eventually on families around the world forced to pay more to put food on the table.
Amidst these challenging times, we can feel reassured about one thing: despite the fact that our nation has not seen a drought of these proportions since the 1930s and 1950s, we are not expected to enter into a modern-day Dust Bowl Situation.
There is a reason for this - and it's something that all of us in the conservation community can be proud of: careful, long-term nationwide conservation and production practices that started mainly in response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The implementation of these practices has resulted in better protection of our precious soil and water resource base - the foundation of our nation's food supply.
So while we can't control weather conditions, strong, locally led conservation planning can help alleviate the impacts of extreme weather events in the future. Conservation districts play a key role in this process by working with local producers and landowners to implement critical conservation practices on the ground.
The current drought, and other extreme weather events we've seen in recent years, is just one more reason why it's so important that Congress passes the 2012 Farm Bill before it expires in September.
Both the bill that was passed by the full Senate, as well as the bill that is pending floor time in the House, include a strong conservation title that streamlines and consolidates programs for increased efficiency and ease-of-use for producers, while maintaining critical funding for all of the conservation purposes needed to implement conservation where it counts and preserve our resources for the future.
The bottom line is, it's better to invest in long-term conservation measures today, than to be forced to pay for the escalated costs of repair in the future.
(Joe Gumm is a board member of the Tygart Valley Conservation District and the National Association of Conservation Districts. He also is a member of the West Virginia Association of Conservation Districts.)