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Agriculture and climate change
Dr. Victor Martin

As of Oct. 12 our area is again essentially unchanged but it pays to remember that any rains Tuesday and onward aren’t in this report so hopefully conditions will improve a bit. Wheat planted is coming up and looking good. 

The six to ten-day outlook (Oct. 19 to 23) indicates above normal temperatures (30% to 50% chance) and 30 to 40% chance of below normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (Oct. 21 to 27) indicates a 40 to 50% chance of above normal temperatures and normal precipitation. A good forecast to finish up wheat planting and to finish fall harvest. An extremely hot topic, no pun intended, across the U.S. and the globe is climate change. Much of the emphasis has been on reducing the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, recycling, etc. What is often left out is the role of agriculture in mitigating climate change.

While most of the emphasis on climate change has focused on severe weather events and the impact on cities, especially hurricanes, floods, droughts and their effects of cities and people, the effects of extreme weather events are very pronounced on both crop and livestock production.  And beyond the impacts of weather directly but indirect effects such as disease pressure and insect pressure on crops and livestock.  

Next does agriculture contribute to things such as greenhouse gas emissions? Yes, but we aren’t speaking about methane emissions from ruminants here. Here, think globally not just the U.S. Deforestation in South America, Indonesia, Madagascar, and other parts of the globe are increasing carbon emissions from the destruction of vegetation and the breakdown of soil organic matter. In our country, it’s not deforestation but the breakdown of organic matter. On the positive side, if we can continue to increase production per acre and other efficiencies, this helps mitigate the need for more deforestation across the globe, especially if we can help the whole world increase per acre production. So how can agriculture help and what are we already doing?

• One major positive is the use of farm/ranch land for solar and wind energy production, states like Kansas and Iowa are nation leaders in the production of these renewable energy sources. Also included is the use of corn and milo for ethanol and plant residue for cellulosic biomass. Crops like canola and soybeans for biodiesel.

• Farm machinery uses technology like DEF along with programming and other technologies along with low-sulfur fuel to minimize emissions. This also applies to the trucking industry.

• Producers are also growing cover crops, often with legumes in the mix, to contribute nitrogen to the soil and decrease the use of nitrogen fertilizers which require large amounts of energy and methane to produce.

• Producers are reducing tillage which sequesters organic matter, decreases the rate of organic matter decomposition and in the case of no-till require less fuel.

• Coming, although at a slower than hoped for pace, newer and more efficient crops. The best example being industrial hemp which when up and running can replace whole forests of pine trees for paper products on less acreage, fewer inputs, and in a more sustainable fashion. And not just paper products.

Naturally there is more but we are out of space.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or