Christmas Day is just past and New Year’s is staring us in the face. This week we wrap up the major stories in agriculture over the past year. These are in no particular order and the list is by no means complete.
• Water – Whether falling from the sky of deep in the ground, water issues claimed a large share of everyone’s energy again. Kansas has seesawed back and forth from moderate drought to a cold, wet spring, back to pretty serious drought and ends the year with only a few areas of the state as abnormally dry. Parts of Western Kansas will end 2016 well above average for precipitation. The Governor has called for study and action to extend and hopefully save the useful life of the Ogallala Aquifer. The Kansas Water Office is meeting across the state for input. K-State Research and Extension are working to determine what is possible and what can be done for parts of the state’s agricultural economy heavily dependent on irrigation. This will continue to be a major story for years and decades.
• GMO Technology – This has been discussed throughout the past year. The momentum of GMO technology in food production continues to pick up speed and expanded to include GMO salmon, new herbicide technologies, food preservation, and a host of other traits. The anti-GMO movement also continues to pick up speed in various parts of this country and the world. As pressure to produce more and more food for an ever increasing population mounts, the discussion will becoming more vigorous and interesting.
• Weather and El Nino – While most Kansas farmers will relate that the only average or normal in Kansas is that there isn’t anything like normal or average, some are examining weather patterns and asking if we are experiencing a shift to more extreme temperature and precipitation patterns. El Nino has helped generate the promised more active weather pattern not just in Kansas but for the entire country. While there is much debate about whether climate change is real and what is our possible role, government at all levels, industry, and many others are already implementing plans to deal with what is predicted. And we need to throw in the Paris Agreement on dealing with climate change.
• Topeka and Washington – No sides are being taken here but the events and nonevents in Topeka and Washington continue to create everything from ripples to tidal waves on the Great Plains. Tax policy changes by Topeka have caused major changes in the countryside and raised concerns in many rural communities. Concerns mentioned previously such as groundwater have generated at the very least meetings and calls for conservation from the state’s executive branch and agencies. Washington continues to deal with aspects of Farm Policy such as crop insurance, risk management, and surface water policy. Finally, with elections looming for Topeka, Congress, and President, politicians are recalling the importance of rural America, its importance to all of the country and the importance of rural America’s values to the foundations of this nation.
• Crude Oil – While not an agricultural commodity, the precipitous drop of crude oil prices and the expected continued glut of crude oil in the world is playing a major role for good and ill in the world and U.S. economies and is having major impacts on our state. Energy costs are certainly much lower than in recent years but many people and operations in rural Kansas derive significant income from oil. Additionally, government had grown accustomed to taxes from oil to help fund services and this has placed further constraints on government budgets.
If your major agriculture story wasn’t mentioned it has to do with the fact that there are way more than ten major stories in any given year. Happy New Year.