There is a group of people that like to bemoan the ills of modern agriculture and who cannot seem to see much good in our present system. This piece in USA Today last month is a good reminder that things really are better off than they once were (HT Darren Hudson).
Large parts of the Midwest experienced severe drought this summer with little rainfall and record high temperatures. The conditions were like those that led to the 1930's Dust Bowl. Yet, we didn't experience anything like it. Why?
According to the story:
In the past 20 years, farmers have transformed from plowing fields 8 to 11 inches deep to "no-till" or "conservation-tillage" practices designed to minimally disturb the ground. That exposes the soil to less wind erosion, preserves natural nutrients, and captures and retains what moisture does fall. These minimum-tillage practices have been around since the 1960s, but farmers did not begin using them on a widespread basis until the 1990s.
Seed companies have built drought-, disease- and insect-resistance into plants. That not only helps crops resist extreme weather and pests but also requires fewer tractor passes through fields, lowering production costs and leaving the ground less packed and less likely to let moisture run off.
Couple those technological advancements (no-till farming by the way is made easier with biotech seeds which allow broad application of herbicide), farmers' improved knowledge and know-how, and the Conservation Reserve Program which pays farmers not to plant environmentally sensitive land, and another dust bowl was averted.