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Our Climate and Crop Production
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Dr. Victor L. Martin


Agricultural Program

Barton Community CollegeIf you have followed along the last several columns, you have a basic understanding of the climate in our area. Actually, you probably already knew much of what you read just by living here. Let’s try to briefly address two items today. First what does our climate tell us as farmers and ranchers? Second, what are the dangers in confusing weather and climate?
· Our climate plus the parent material with the addition of time determine what type of soil we have to work with. This is true not only for agriculture but determines a variety of things from possible industries (say brickyards or limestone quarries and sand pits) to how we can build our homes and out of what. Our climate resulted in the development of grasslands. Further east, the result was forest. That meant that as the pioneers settled here, they found productive soils, the soils weren’t acid, overall high in plant nutrients, and, because of the native grasses, soils possessed good soil structure. Remember, the grasses were so thick, they were able to build sod houses.
· Our climate was/is much better suited to grass crops, not broadleaf crops. It’s not that we can’t grow them, it’s just that even with irrigation, more risk is involved. Remember that until about 1920, corn, not hard red winter wheat was our primary crop. There is a benefit to our relatively drier climate. Broadleaf crops such as alfalfa typically experience less disease pressure with the lower humidity. The same is also true of a crop like corn more suited to a somewhat wetter environment.
· Even though we are a “grass crop” climate, our climate makes some grass crop production unwise. Soft winter wheat, spring wheat, and currently white wheat production is variable. Our hard red winter wheat is actually pretty well suited to dry (not droughty) winters and can take advantage of when we normally receive most of our moisture, April through June. It can normally finish before our air temperatures become excessive. Soft winter wheat is normally hammered by diseases and high temperatures. Spring wheat also suffers from diseases with the humidity, especially as it is later than winter wheat, and the heat compresses the grain fill period. And until they solve the sprouting problem, we are typically too humid and wet to consistently produce white wheat.
· For animal production, our climate typically provides good pasture opportunities. Also since we are not typically humid and wet, many animal health problems are minimized and more easily managed than with production further east.
· We need to remember our climate, not just recent weather patterns. We tend to fluctuate between wet and dry cycles. We tend to have short memories. Our climate tells us that dryland soybean production is variable and from here west, care needs to be taken not to devote too many acres to dryland production. After several years of above normal precipitation and normal to below normal temperatures, this summer reminded us of the dangers of dryland soybean production. This summer also reminded us of the risk involved in double cropping.
Next week, where are we as we head into winter wheat planting season?