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Days of the Dust Bowl:
Was it Just a Waste of Time?
Caitlin Foster
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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The dreary years of the Dust Bowl will never be forgotten. Yet, could they have been prevented? In "Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West," Donald Worster tries to determine whether or not the settlers and the farmers had any influence on the occurrence or if the Dust Bowl would have happened regardless. This traumatic time was, in some eyes, considered inevitable. However, some critics believe that the Dust Bowl could have been prevented. With the advances in society as a whole, it could be said that technology created the Dust Bowl.

Before the upgrade of the tractor there were only a certain number of farmers that were farming relationship with the land. Many were also involved in farming because of family tradition, and this is still the case in today's society. The rest of the new farmers were attracted to the business aspect of the growing economy. After World War I, the economy was struggling and therefore needed help from the American farmers in the Plains. It was also known that other nations were cutting of their supply of produce from other countries because of conflicts having to do with the war. Once inventors had the tractor running faster than usual, farmers were able to cover much more ground than in previous years. "In thirteen southwestern Kansas counties, where there had been two million crop acres in 1925, there were three million in 1930. Altogether in that period farmers tore up the vegetation on 5,260,000 acres in the southern Plains-an area seven times as large as Rhode Island" (Worster 213). This proves that farmers were upgrading equipment and as a result making more money, and covering extreme amounts of land in one single days work. This drew the attention of people from other, more business-like, professions and many became very interested in making a little more money in their spare time. It seemed that farmers in this time were making more money yearly than most business professionals and even the President. Many decided that they could keep their normal jobs and just farm when it was necessary. This powerful movement was known as the Great Plow-up. This made many of the farmers angry because they felt that in order to farm one needs to know about the land and have a connection with it. The farmers believed that in order to create a bond with the land one must live on it, unlike the new farmers that just commuted from the country to the city whenever necessary. As Worster suggests: "Any attempt to understand the cultural roots of the Dust Bowl must begin with a scrutiny of Great Plains rural society in the late 1910s and the 1920s" (211). These new suitcase farmers were said to have absolutely no connection or spiritual bond with their land because they made no effort to become one with nature. With everyone wanting to make more money in the farming industry, America was becoming the number one producer of wheat, and therefore, was a very large food producer for other nations as well as our own:

Wheat, it was said in Washington and in the western provinces, would help win the war by feeding the Allies and toughening their resolve. When the war ended, Europe for a while still needed food imports, and by 1919 America, under government-set goals, harvested 74 million acres of wheat-yielding 952 million bushels in all, a 38 percent increase over the 1909-13 average, and providing 330 million bushels for shipment abroad. Most of this came in winter wheat, the standard variety grown over most of the southern Plains, which was planted in the fall and cut in the following midsummer. (Worster 211)
Even after the war was over, America continued to produce a great amount of wheat. Unfortunately, because farmers had gotten so much more land plowed up there was no vegetation to withstand the wind and other elements. "From 1914 to 1919 Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas had expanded their wheat lands by 13.5 million acres, mainly by plowing up 11 million acres of native grass" (Worster 211). This was terrible news when the drought began because there was nothing to block the wind and therefore, dust began to stir and erode from the farms leaving next to nothing behind to make a living from. This, of course, is known as the Dust Bowl.

The Dust Bowl was probably one of the most dreary and most disastrous times in history. "And there was a recurrent pattern of crop disaster and farm failure, of retreating to ground representing less risk" (Worster 211). The question now is not whether or not this was a disaster, but rather could it have been prevented. Without the advances in the tractor would the Dust Bowl have taken place? Or were individuals just too motivated to make an extra dollar? "Entrepreneurialism was not a new cultural innovation on the Plains" (Worster 214). Although it was not a new factor in society, entrepreneurs were becoming more and more evident as the money flow increased because of supply and demand during and after the war. Most believed that the land was there for their use and it was their job and right to make use of it. Worster discusses Willa Cather's ideas regarding peoples spiritual connection to the land, but also suggests "that the typical wheat entrepreneur did not read Cather or put much stock in peasant modes of thought" (215). It seems many were just trying to dictate and make tons of money for their personal benefit. This, of course, is never in the best interest of the land or the people in the future. New farmers were also making big mistakes in how they were planting there crops. In a different article the facts about what the farmers were doing wrong were all brought up:

By the time a major push to introduce soil-conservation techniques arrived in the late 1930s, the facts of land distribution meant that peasants, in particular, were likely to farm in areas that were prone to soil erosion. The extent of erosion was influenced by more than the characteristic of land distribution and topography, however: The specific technologies employed and the different crops grown also played a role (Grossman 357).
The specific types of crops they were planting were yams and cassava which needed little soil cover. On the other hand they did make a few good decisions when planting crops such as sweet potatoes which created a great protective cover (Grossman 357). Although they made both good and bad decisions with the crops they chose, they made nearly all day decisions with the way they worked their land. There were several different techniques that the farmers tried such as planting in the rainy season which allowed all the soil to erode. They also tried planting downhill which obviously caused the soil to accumulate at the bottom. Many of the mistakes made were caused by lack of common sense when it came to the land that they were trying to deal with. Some examples of the ways they could have improved conservation practices are by using contour cultivation, grass contour lines as soil, strip cropping, and drains to control the amount of water that was reaching the crops (Grossman 362-363). Of course, the original farmers already knew about the techniques and were trying their very best to perform them. Yet as the situation continued to worsen, the new farmers were still not catching on to the fact that nothing they were doing was right.

If these suitcase farmers were not as enthusiastic and greedy about making more money than the original farmers, maybe the Dust Bowl could have been prevented. In conclusion, with the advances in society as a whole, it could be said that technology, along with the raging greed of the suitcase farmers, created the Dust Bowl. There were so many ways in which the farmers, as well as the suitcase farmers, could have prevented the Dust Bowl. Both types of farmers were so ambitious to make more money than the other and plant more crops. The advances of the tractor made it so much easier for them to cover extreme amounts of land that would never have been possible to be reached. Unfortunately, this was proven to be detrimental to the future generations of farmers.

Works Cited

Grossman, Lawrence S. "Soil Conservation, Political Ecology, and Technological Change on Saint Vincent." The Geographical Review 87.3 (1997): 353-74. http://www.jstor.org.

Worster, Donald. "Grassland Follies: Agricultural Capitalism on the Plains." The Great Plains: Writing Across the Disciplines. Ed. Brad Gambill, et al. Forth Worth: Harcourt Custom Publishers, 2001. 206-19.

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