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We must adapt to a new climate ‘normal’
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, May 17 indicates a further expansion of extreme drought in our area and worsening conditions across the western two-thirds of the state in spite of the rainfall. Essentially, only the eastern third of the state is in decent shape. The wheat tour this past week seems to confirm these conditions and their effect on the wheat. The exceptional drought in Southwest Kansas is expanding northeast. It will take a dramatic change in our weather patterns to break the stranglehold of this drought. The six to ten-day outlook (May 24 to 28) indicates normal temperatures and 33 to 40% chance of leaning below normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (May 26 to June 1) indicates a 50 to 60% chance of above normal temperatures and near normal to slightly below normal precipitation. Those temperatures around Memorial Day coupled with a lack of moisture will hurry up wheat and certainly not help the yield of an already hurting crop for many. 

Last week’s column discussed the changing climate patterns Kansas is facing, the extremes of wind, precipitation, and temperature. Let’s add in aquifer depletion in Western Kansas. This week, what can be done to adapt and sustain agricultural production. It will require a new approach to agriculture to adapt. It won’t be easy or cheap but it can be done. K-State and other land grant institutions along with the USDA and the private sector must come together to solve these problems. This isn’t an all-inclusive list but some of the high points to consider.

• The key for agriculture is maintaining the cattle industry. In terms of receipts, cattle drive the ag economy in Kansas. To maintain the meat packing industry, we must maintain the cattle industry, especially the feedlot industry. To maintain the feedlot industry, we must find ways to supply the appropriate feedstuffs to finish cattle. And sustain, the cow-calf and stocker industry in the state.

• With aquifer depletion in Western Kansas, it is imperative to find a way to maximize the efficiency of irrigation for corn production. This must be done technologically through drip irrigation and other technologies in addition to improved hybrids that are both more water efficient and pest resistant. And we must find ways to decrease our reliance on corn in beef production. It may be alternatives to corn grain, such as grain sorghum or silage. Perhaps, have cattle spend more of their life on pasture. Of course, this means finding ways to produce and maintain productive annual and perennial pasture.  

• Producers must become more and more efficient in their cultural practices ranging from pest control to fertility management and cultivar selection along with novel crops. GMO crops will play a significant role here.

• Something to consider here is our reliance on grain. It’s easier to produce quality vegetative matter than grain. Can we shift food, fuel and fiber production to the vegetative side? Say hemp for fiber or ethanol from stalks and leaves instead of grain efficiently.  

All of this isn’t to suggest that the ag industry hasn’t made and is continuing to make strides in these areas. It does suggest, we as a country must invest in the research and infrastructure to transition to a sustainable ag industry.

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