While director Christopher Nolan’s newest film is primarily about inter-galaxy space travel, growers may find elements of the movie hit close to home.
The premise of “Interstellar” is that Earth is becoming uninhabitable due to a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl, prompting NASA to send a team into space in search of a new planet to call home. As an NPR blog article put it, “It’s science fiction with an uncomfortable ring of truth.”
The reason why is the film features first-hand experience of what happened in the 1930s — the movie includes actual footage from Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary “The Dust Bowl.”
And while the “Dirty Thirties” may have occurred more than 70 years ago, our world is still battling wind erosion. Earlier this year, a dust storm in Illinois reduced visibility to only a few feet, resulting in two car accidents. According to NPR, two new ‘Dust Bowls’ — defined as an area of land where vegetation has been lost and soil reduced to dust and eroded, especially as a consequence of drought or unsuitable farming practices — have been developing in China and northern Africa over the last few decades due to overgrazing. Dust clouds from the Sahara can affect air quality as far away as Houston.
If we allow these types of farming practices to continue, will we face a fate similar to the characters in Interstellar?
Due to growing adoption of no-till and cover crops in the U.S., I’d like to think the answer is no. In our Summer 2014 edition of Conservation Tillage Guide, we shared how no-till in the U.S. has grown from 3.3 million acres to more than 96 million over the last 4 decades. The 2012 Census of Agriculture found that 34.6% of acres are no-tilled, 29.4% are under a form of conservation tillage, and 38% are conventionally tilled.
Progress is being made, but is it enough?
Earth Policy Institute director of research Janet Larsen told NPR that with more extreme droughts, the U.S. could easily find itself in a 'Dust Bowl' again without good land-management practices.
With harvest wrapping up, now may be a good time to examine how well your soil is protected and whether there are additional management practices you can make to protect the soil from wind erosion, such as using cover crops. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, covering 30% of the soil surface will reduce soil losses by 70% compared to the soil loss for a bare soil.
Interstellar may be science fiction, but it brings to light a tragedy that most people on Earth today never witnessed, and serves as a reminder to what could happen if we allow history to repeat itself.