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Crops and climate change discussed
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, July 19, indicates worsening conditions our area as we continue in moderate drought, although the northeast tip of the county is still abnormally dry. Severe drought is creeping eastward into Barton County and envelopes almost all of Pawnee and Stafford Counties. Much of the western third of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought. The very western counties on the Colorado border have seen a little rain over the last week and aren’t quite as severe. The six to 10-day outlook (July 26 to 30) indicates a 40 to 50% chance of above normal temperatures and believe it or not, a 50 to 60% chance of above normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (July 28 to Aug. 3) indicates a continued 40 to 50% chance of above normal temperatures and a 33 to 40% chance of above normal precipitation. The precipitation, if it happens, might benefit late corn some but the biggest benefit would be for grain sorghum and soybeans. Last week we discussed possible changes to cropping systems and cultural practices. Today, how might our actual crops adapt or change.

Before looking forward to adapting to a changing climate. Let’s look back, to say 1990. Dryland crops were primarily wheat, grain sorghum, and some alfalfa. Continuous wheat was common. There was very little dryland corn from here west. Dryland soybeans were essentially nonexistent. Cotton south of Barton County was also absent. Fast forward to today and see fields of dryland corn, soybeans, and south of here cotton acreage. Near the Oklahoma border we find winter canola. Triticale is slowly gaining a foothold. There is relatively little continuous wheat. The point is, agriculture in this area and in Western Kansas has changed dramatically before and it will again. So, what are some possible changes to our crops.

• Technology, both conventional breeding and genetic engineering, will help our current crops adapt. Crops can be, up to a point, be made more drought and pest tolerant. More and diverse pest and herbicide resistance will be engineered through convention breeding or as GMOs. It won’t solve all issues, but it can help. 

• Irrigators, especially west of Barton, must conserve and more efficiently use irrigation water. Shorter season corn hybrids are a good example. Where appropriate, more cotton. Grain sorghum hybrids are another good option, especially food grade sorghums. Perhaps, with better cultivars, especially those tolerant to 2,4-D and dicamba, an increase in oil sunflower seed production.

• While dryland corn and soybean acreage won’t totally disappear, it’s likely acreage will shift to crops requiring less water and are more forgiving such as grain sorghum, cotton, or even more forage crops. Dryland corn and soybean acreage will also benefit from more drought tolerant breeding activities. Also, a shift to much shorter season corn hybrids to attempt to use less water and try to plant them early and hope to pollinate and develop seed as early as possible.

• Since our major crops, outside of wheat, are used primarily as cattle feed, we may see a shift to more perennial and annual hay/pasture. This is just an idea of what may be done to adapt. Producers have changed their cultural practices and crops in Kansas for over 150 years to stay in business and will continue to do so.


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