To end the year, it is safe to say what a difference a day makes. Except for a tiny sliver of Southwest Kansas on the Kansas Oklahoma border, no part of the state is even abnormally dry. Needless to say, the weather of this past year has taken all of us on a rollercoaster ride regarding precipitation. In fact a rollercoaster ride may be the best way to describe many aspects regarding agriculture over the last year. Tis the season of lists and this week the list reviews some, not all, of the top agriculture stories of the past twelve months for Kansas and the nation. These are in no particular order and hardly all-inclusive.
• Precision agriculture and technology – Precision agriculture is playing an ever-increasing role in production agriculture. Great strides are occurring allowing for increased efficiency with inputs and labor, better environmental protections, and in optimizing production. Advances in agricultural technology encompasses much more, focusing on items such as genetic engineering of crops for herbicide tolerance, insect and disease resistance and specific quality traits.
• Weed control – Most are familiar with the problems of herbicide resistance that have developed concerning glyphosate. However, resistance to herbicides involves many modes of action. Newer herbicide programs can help address these issues but are expensive and involve both new herbicides and crops genetically modified to be tolerant. Another issue here is the return to more aggressive tillage for weed control and problems with soil erosion and compaction. A final issue is the development of dicamba tolerant soybeans and cotton and the offsite crop damage issues of the last two years. While the greatest damage has occurred on states like Arkansas and Missouri, yield loss has also been significant in Kansas.
• Trade wars and tariffs – This should likely fall under economics but the trade disputes between the U.S. and Mexico, Canada, China, the E.U., and other countries has taken a toll on farm exports which are vital to the overall ag economy generally, and to Kansas producers specifically. The impact has been severely felt in commodity prices.
• Pollution and the environment – This is a continuing issue regarding ground and surface waters and nonpoint source pollution from farmer fields and CAFOs (animal manure). The culprits are fertilizers, manures, and pesticides. Also of concern is pest control while maintaining pollinator populations so vital for our food supply.
• Economics – Cost are up while prices are down for most commodities. Land values have retreated a bit. Farm bankruptcies have increased dramatically and consolidation seems to be increasing.
• The Farm Bill – In one sentence, we have a Farm Bill sitting at the White House as this is being written, needing only the President’s signature. One passed with large bipartisan support. (Editor’s note: President Donald Trump signed the bill Thursday.)
• Weather – As always, weather is a major story in Kansas, across the country, and around the globe. Here we have gone from extreme drought to extreme precipitation and flooding. Wheat fared poorly. Many summer crops fared much better until harvest.
Again, your top stories may vary. Merry Christmas to all and thanks for reading.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.