Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Kansas Agriculture – What Is Average?

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Great Bend Tribune
Published November 1, 2020

The Drought Monitor shows essentially the same pattern as last week with all of Kansas at least abnormally dry with the area of moderate drought creeping eastward towards us.  While most of our area missed the rainfall last week, Eastern and South Central Kansas benefitted from significant precipitation.  However, that won’t appear until next week’s report.  The six to ten-day outlook (November 4 to 8) indicates below normal precipitation and a strong likelihood of well-above normal temperatures.  Remember that normal for this time of year is only about one inch.  Looking out eight to fourteen days (November 6 to 12) indicates normal temperatures here and above-normal precipitation for the state.  

Today, what is average in Kansas and Kansas agriculture?  This may seem like an odd question but one worth considering as weather extremes seem to be intensifying.  And it applies to more than weather but everything from farm income to crop yields.  The purpose here isn’t to have you slog through reams of numbers but to help you understand and interpret what you see.  First, several definitions will help.

  • Average or mean: Simply, take a group of numbers, add them together, and divide by the number of values you added together.  For example, there are ten people, nine of them make $10,000 per year and one makes $110,000 thousand.  The average income for the group is $20,000.  Take another ten people and each makes $20,000.  The average is the same.  Without getting into statistics too deeply, it’s obvious that even though each group has the same average income, each group is dramatically different.  In the first group the data is “skewed” toward one end.  In an ideal distribution of data, the values would be more evenly distributed, the bell-shaped curve most are familiar with, and in that case the average would be the same as the next term.
  • Median: When you have a group of values, the median is exactly in the middle of the values if you list them from smallest to largest.  Half the values are greater than the median and half less.  In a normal bell-shaped curve, the median and the average are the same, however, little in the real world is normal.  From weather to income.  The median is more valuable. 
  • Range:  No, not grassland here.  It is simply the high and low values of a set of numbers, data.
  • Standard deviation – if you look at a set of numbers (this relates to the range) how spread out are they from the average and median.  If they are close to these values, the deviation is small and the mean represents, pretty well, what is going on.  If they are spread out, the mean/average doesn’t tell you as much.

The purpose of this is?  We all see lots of numbers and statistics, not just in Ag but everywhere.  Take to the time to dig into the numbers and ask questions, especially when listening to presentations. 


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