Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Agriculture and Climate Change

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Great Bend Tribune
Published October 27, 2019

First, the drought monitor is essentially unchanged for our immediate area but some areas of Southwest Kansas have slid into severe drought from moderate drought.  Temperatures this past Friday/Saturday dipped into the mid-20s and this coming week promises the coldest air this fall.  The growing season is most definitely over.  Fortunately the summer row crops that were going to mature have and the freezing temperatures, especially for grain sorghum, will aid with harvest and grain moisture.  Another plus is the degree of progress this year in wheat planting, the area is much farther along than last year.  Emergence is good and in many fields tillers are evident.  Our wheat is a cool-season grass so it doesn’t prefer excessive heat in the fall and this this week’s temperatures won’t cause it to enter into dormancy, that is keyed by a combination of decreasing daylight and temperature, but slightly warmer temperatures and some precipitation would help, especially on sandier soils.  This leads nicely into today’s topic, climate change.

First, this afternoon, starting at 2 p.m. in the Learning Resource Center (library) at Barton Community College, the Barton County Chapter of Women for Kansas is presenting Dr. Rick Cowlishaw, Biology Professor and Department Chair at Southwestern College.  His presentation is entitled “Climate Is Apolitical.”  This presentation presents information on the positive steps being made in finding solutions to climate change, how the bipartisan divide is dissolving, and what the research shows will likely happen if we don’t act.  This is a free, nonpartisan event.  So, why is this in an agriculture column?

  • Long-term weather records, from the late 1800s in our area indicate a warming trend overall and a more extreme precipitation pattern (drier dry periods and wetter wet periods).  Producers have to deal with this erratic weather.  While producers have control over certain aspects of crop and livestock production, weather is the wild card.  Even will all the advances in cultural practices and technologies, this changing, more extreme weather pattern plays havoc on production.  In the economic climate today, profit margins are thin and crop insurance won’t make producers whole.  What can be done to mitigate the change?  How can producers alter practices to cope?
  • If models are correct, and in spite of some criticism, they have pretty much been correct, agriculture in Kansas will look dramatically different in thirty to fifty years than today.  Much of the state’s agriculture will look more and more like the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas if the trend continues.
  • Currently in Stafford County, there is a dispute over providing adequate water to the Quivira national Wildlife Refuge, a senior water right holder.  Without going into details, irrigation is impairing the ability of the refuge some years, drier years, to have adequate water for migratory waterfowl. The aquifer relies on precipitation for recharge and long-term, withdrawals are greater than recharge.  This is compounded by increased water needs with overall hotter, drier weather.  No matter the outcome of this dispute, agriculture will be forced to change practices.
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