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Managing risk in turbulent times unavoidable risk
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Before addressing today’s topic, a few notes. First, none of the state is even listed as abnormally dry according to the official U.S. Drought Monitor. The closest areas are in central Colorado and the Texas/Oklahoma border. Second, after struggling through wet conditions, the corn crop is essentially in the ground according to official statistics while grain sorghum and soybean planting progress is being made. Finally, in spite of wet, somewhat cool conditions, the wheat crop is turning and progressing well. The downside, for reasons discussed everywhere in past weeks, is that around one-quarter of the crop is rated in poor to very poor condition. Now, how to handle unavoidable risk.
As a quick review, unavoidable risks include weather (hail, wind, extremes of temperature and precipitation) and certain pest pressures that are endemic, always present, or epidemic, breaking out at extreme levels for which there are few options. Although they are termed unavoidable here, that doesn’t mean there is nothing a producer can do mitigate the risk, at least to a certain extent.
First, how can we handle unpredictable weather? Some we can’t such as the extreme drought or hail. What can be done is to eliminate all the other stresses we can control such as soil pH and fertility. Based on the soils and average climate, select as diverse a crop rotation as possible, i.e. don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you are able to plant wheat, corn, milo, and soybeans there is less of a chance for hail and strong winds to take out all the acreage. Don’t lock a field into certain crops if at all possible by carefully selecting herbicides and fertility so if you have a disaster, you have replant options. Stagger planting and cultivar maturities so breaking dormancy, flowering, maturity, etc. are staggered. Select cultivars, within limits, directing more moisture and nutrients into what you are harvesting and that are more heat and drought tolerant. For example a shorter vegetative growth period. Pay attention to frost free dates. Plant as early as practical and harvest as early as possible. Hopefully, these examples provide a good general idea of how through cultural practices it isn’t possible to totally eliminate unavoidable hazards but minimize their damage.
A good example of unavoidable pest risk is the sugarcane aphid epidemic on grain sorghum last year. Some of these can be handled, as in this case, by spraying while over time host plant resistance will increase in importance. If a field is infected by something like Take All Root Rot in wheat, you have to know when you are licked and find alternative crops as the best option. Take All is a good example of an endemic problem as are certain other diseases and weeds like field bindweed. While there are options for bindweed, the best may be removing the bindweed portions of the field from production and specifically attacking the weed. For something like extremely alkaline soils where no practical short term remedy exists, producers have to select tolerant cultivars of crops, foliar application of certain micronutrients, or selecting more tolerant crops. Risk in farming is ever present and not totally avoidable but it can be reasonably managed both in the field and through insurance and other strategies.

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