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US soil drought recovery could take two years

The Midwest suffered the worst drought in years last summer, and Midwest soil has been suffering from a drought since early 2010. As a result, crops have wilted and farmers have fallen on hard times. Now, a University of Missouri researcher says that it may take at least two years for crops and soil to recover.

Soil in the Midwest is dry down to as deep as 5 feet, where the roots of the crops absorb moisture and nutrients, according to Randall Miles, associate professor of soil science at the MU School of Natural Resources. “I wouldn’t count on a full recovery of soil moisture any time soon,” said Miles. “Even if parts of the Midwest receive a lot of snowfall and rain this spring, it will take time for the moisture to move deeply into the soil where the driest conditions exist.” Some roots, he said, had to go down to eight feet in 2012 to extract water.

To recharge completely, a fully depleted soil would require about 16 inches of water over normal precipitation amounts. “In order for the soil moisture to return to a normal state this year, the rain and snow would almost have to come continuously,” said Miles. “The weather would almost have to be like the precipitation found in London, coming down light and slowly to minimise runoff.”

“Until we start seeing normal rainfall, the water levels on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are going to be low, affecting the number of barges that can pass on the rivers at one time,” Miles said.

It could be two to three years before farmers can expect again, according to Miles.

Sunita Sahota

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