This article investigates linkages between soil conditions, farm-level vulnerability, adaptation, and rural migration during periods of drought. It begins by reviewing existing literature on climate adaptation in agricultural populations and on relationships between soil and rural migration. This is followed by a detailed case study of rural migration patterns that emerged in the Swift Current district of Saskatchewan, Canada, during a period of extended droughts and severe economic conditions in the 1930s. Using a combination of secondary literature, interviews with surviving first-hand observers and GIS modeling, the study shows how the interacting effects of household indebtedness, social capital, government relief programs, and farm-level soil quality helped stimulate population loss in many rural townships across the study area. The study focuses particularly on the role played by differential soil quality across the Swift Current district and how farms situated on sandier soils were typically more sensitive and vulnerable to drought than those situated on clay soils. Higher-than-average rates of population loss were associated with townships containing areas of poorer quality agricultural soils, an association replicable using GIS software and existing soil and population datasets. The findings from the case study are discussed within the context of the broader existing literature, and suggestions are provided on future directions for research, planning, and modeling to assist planners and policymakers concerned with rural adaptation and migration.
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One mile = approximately 2.6 km. Imperial measurements are used in this paper to reflect the standard unit of measurement in use during the study period.
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This research was supported by a standard research grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Residents of Swift Current, Herbert and surrounding areas who were anonymous participants in this research are gratefully acknowledged for their contributions, as are staff of the Swift Current Museum, the Herbert Train Station Museum, and the Saskatchewan Archives, Regina. This article benefited greatly from suggestions received through the anonymous peer-review process.
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McLeman, R.A., Ploeger, S.K. Soil and its influence on rural drought migration: insights from Depression-era Southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. Popul Environ 33, 304–332 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-011-0148-y