If You Want to Understand Oklahoma’s Drought, Go Play in the Dirt

  • Joe Wertz

oceanmythos / flickr

Spring rains have started to fill rivers and reservoirs, and helped bring relief to parts of drought-stricken Oklahoma.

But what falls from the sky is only part of the equation. In Oklahoma, droughts are meteorological — and agricultural. And researchers at Oklahoma State University say soil data is key to understanding drought and its impact on farming and the state’s emerging bioenergy industry, the Journal Record’s D. Ray Tuttle reports:

Much of the state has suffered under extreme drought conditions for two years. Still, despite the wet March that much of Oklahoma experienced, soil moisture levels were lower than they were in March 2011 or March 2012, Tyson Ochsner, an assistant professor of applied soil physics in the OSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, tells the paper.

Ochsner’s team says the soil-water balance is a key component in measuring productivity of crops like switch grass, which can be used to make ethanol used for fuel, the Journal reports:

“Unless we have adequate water, we will not be able to produce large quantities of bioenergy crops,” Ochsner said.

To remain economically viable, switch grass production must be watered by Mother Nature … Irrigation might improve yields, but becomes too costly, Ochsner said.