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Drought Relief: Are Victory Gardens in Our Future?

As the drought rages on, an idea from World War II arises as a way to alleviate some of the strain on crops.
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Americans living in the sun-baked states plagued by drought certainly feel its impact. And, yes, consumers across the country are paying more for food because of the lack of rain.

But what may bring the drought's severity home to more people is an idea from Wayne Tucker, founder of BIO S.I. Technology, which makes microbial soil inoculants that help increase the efficiency of water and nutrients used in agriculture.

Tucker would like to reduce the strain on food brought on by the drought with a return to an idea from the days of World War II, when people at home grew their own vegetables and fruits to make up for war-time shortages.

"I think having victory gardens, like those in the war, would help," he said. "That would be one way to solve the lack of water and ease the pressure on farmers."

Other experts say the drought, now going on three years in some areas with no sign of letting up, is likely to have more impact as time goes on.

"More of us are going to feel the effects of water shortages and fewer crops," said Lynn Wilson, an academic chair at Kaplan University and an environmental researcher. "We're going to have to think differently to solve this problem."

Since 2012, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. has been in some sort of drought condition—from moderate to severe—and it remains so, according to the latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor, released this week.

And areas in drought are at their worst point since Oct. 8—up 7.48 percentage points from the beginning of the year.

Recent spurts of rainfall in drought-ridden parts of New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma have been some cause for celebration. However, it will take months of rain to make up for what hasn't fallen in the past two years, experts say. Meanwhile, crops, jobs and drinking water remain at risk.

"All we're doing is coping when it comes to the drought. No one is really thinking ahead."

Crops caught in drought

To get a measure of the drought's wide ranging impact on agriculture, and ultimately on food prices for consumers, all it takes is a look at the crops and livestock located in drought regions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor:

  • Corn: approximately 25 percent of all corn is grown in drought regions.
  • Soybeans: some 19 percent of all soybeans is grown in a drought area.
  • Hay: about 30 percent of all hay is grown in a drought area.
  • Cattle: some 45 percent of all domestic cattle inventory is in an area with drought.
  • Wheat: nearly 52 percent of winter wheat is grown in a drought-affected states.

Drought conditions in Oklahoma have farmers there expecting only 20 percent of their normal wheat yield this spring. And situations like this are putting pressure on consumers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices are expected to continue their rise of up to 3.5 percent for the rest of the year because of the drought.

Loss of jobs

The drought is also certainly being felt in states like Kansas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. Even the normally water-logged Oregon is feeling the effects from lack of rain.

Officials in Texas have said the state is suffering the worst drought conditions of the past 500 years. Dozens of Texas communities, especially in the south, are said to have less than 90 days of water.

According to a new study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, California's drought will deal a severe blow to Central Valley irrigated agriculture and farm communities this year, and could cost the industry $1.7 billion and cause more than 14,500 workers to lose their jobs.

And some farmers and community water districts in California could soon face limits on their ability to use water from streams that flow into the Sacramento River, a principal water source that flows from Northern to Central California. Residents are reportedly protesting water use restrictions and the penalties that come with them.

The Golden State is in its third year of severe drought—the whole state has been declared in a drought emergency—leaving dozens of local towns at risk of running out of drinking water and forcing farmers to leave fallow nearly a half-million acres of land, according to the UCD study.

Gloomy forecast

It's gotten so bad that even brief rainstorms in sun-baked states are drawing near breaking news headlines. However, forecasts for ending the drought, long term and short, don't look so good.

According to the National Weather Service, during the next week or so, the odds favor normal to above-normal temperatures across the entire contiguous U.S., with the exception of the western Gulf Coast. Below-normal precipitation is expected in the Southern Plains and the Pacific Northwest.

Improvement in drought conditions is expected in the southern Rockies, but that's not likely until seasonal heavy rains begin in late July or August.

Tucker said he doesn't expect people to just start victory gardens any time soon, but a look to the past may be one way to deal with a present situation that's burning up at record levels.

"All we're doing is coping when it comes to the drought," he said. "No one is really thinking ahead."