Dust Bowl Days

Drought, wind, bad farming practices, and market forces combined to create massive dust storms and crop failures that dominated the 1930s and rivaled the market crash of 1929 in the devastation it caused throughout the Great Plains. By 1931, topsoil from overplowed and overgrazed land began to blow across the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. By 1934, the drought covered more than 75 percent of the nation, severely affecting 27 states. At its height, an estimated 100 million acres of farmland topsoil was lost to the winds. One of the worst dust storms of the decade, on what became known as Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, prompted an Associated Press reporter to coin a term for the region: the Dust Bowl.

During those years, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal offered relief to farmers who were losing their livelihoods and their property. When dust from a storm on the western plains blew through the nation’s capitol, Congress quickly passed the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 to reform farming techniques. A co-author of the act was Arthur Benjamin Conner from Rosebud, Texas, a graduate of Texas A&M, a former Texas agricultural experiment station research center director, and the first recipient of an honorary doctorate of agriculture from A&M. With the full backing of President Roosevelt’s administration and aggressive campaigns to restore farm and pastureland, the Soil Conservation Act would forever change the way we approach modern agriculture.

At Texas A&M, scientists from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (now Texas AgriLife Research) also launched research to help solve the crisis. Seventy-five years later, their work on such techniques as crop rotation, rangeland management, soil and water conservation, and weed control are still commonly practiced on farms and ranches all over the Lone Star State and across the nation.

In the fall of 1939, the rains returned, the country pulled out of the Great Depression, and the plains once again began yielding their harvest.

Photo: Texas Dust Bowl, 1936. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. britannica.com.

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