Here’s a great story from The Hutchinson News (in Hutchinson, Kan):
The 25th billionth bushel of wheat in a century of Kansas wheat production was harvested earlier this month.
Farmer Mike Brown ceremoniously caught grain in a bushel basket on his farm near Colby to mark the achievement, as his son Tanner unloaded the combine into a grain cart.
Kansas Wheat reported the 25th billionth bushel cut last week. According to the association, 25 billion bushels equals more than 1 trillion commercial loaves of bread.
While an amazing feat, it’s not surprising considering Kansas’ rich history as the nation’s breadbasket, producing nearly one-fifth of all the wheat grown in the United States.
Read the rest here.
Here’s a cool story from The Garden City (Kansas) Telegram: Kearny County farmer takes a chance with canola
Along the River Road between Deerfield and Lakin, families and farmers have stopped along the south side of the road to inspect a field of vibrant yellow blooms.
Fred Ritsema, a Kearny County farmer and owner of Lakin Dairy, said his canola field has been in bloom since last week.
Ritsema, who is from Holland, used to grow the crop there and decided to try his luck with the Kansas soil.
Since canola is a winter crop, Ritsema thinks more farmers may be interested in growing it.
Ritsema has farmed in Kearny County since 1997. Growing corn and alfalfa has been difficult in recent years due to the drought.
“This has gotten a lot of farmers’ attention. I think in the near future more farmers will be turning to winter crops instead of summer crops,” he said.
Our own Fred Vocasek is a member of the American Society of Agronomy (or the ASA). Fred, along with other ASA members, have been talking about water security on a global scale.
From the interview:
Why isn’t no-till being practiced in developing countries?
Rattan: There are several reasons. One is that the same crop residues that we’re talking about as being important in water conservation have many other competing uses. In developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, crop residues are used for fodder, and for fencing and house construction. And more importantly, residues are used for cooking by many households. You’ve heard the story about the atmospheric brown cloud (ABC)? That originates from cooking by burning biomass, crop residues, and animal dung.
So unless those competing use requirements are met through policy interventions, through education, through incentives, these crop residues will not go back on the land. And if residues do not get back on the land, water does not get effectively conserved.
When you say “incentives,” what are you thinking of specifically?
Pete: Maybe Rattan and Fred won’t totally agree with this, but I think to get change you need to provide an economic incentive. For example, if we want people to stop using biomass for fodder in some of these cultures, they need to see that they can make a better living by leaving it on the land. In other words, everything relates back to the billfold. Or for the subsistence farmer it’s not the billfold, it’s just a better life. So, the trick is finding a way, whether it’s through policy or something else, to create that economic incentive. Because every farmer I’ve ever met in Colorado who has converted over to some of the practices we recommend will say they did it because they could make more money.
Fred: One of the tenets of management is “What gets paid, gets done.” For example, I’ve been in southwest Kansas for about 30 years and I’ve seen a huge change in irrigation systems or water management technology—let’s call it that. And several things have driven that: the increased cost of fuel, the increased cost of pumping. So it’s been somewhat economical to switch over to technologies that are more efficient.
Pete: Exactly. So, for example, if a government policy were in place that would encourage farmers to try a new technology that would be profitable—a seed grant or something, to get people going—that would be good. We don’t want programs that require public input of money forever and ever. They need to be pilot projects that get people started and let them realize the benefits. And then they can take it from there.
We found a blog recently that has some interesting posts and photos on it.
A Kansas newspaper reporter, Amy Bickel, is taking a trip to Peru, learning about agriculture there as part of the Kansas Agricultural and Rural Leadership program.
From her column in The Hutchinson News:
Our group will tour Peru to learn more about one of the countries in which we export product.
The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allows Kansas producers the opportunity to increase the state’s market share in Peru. It officially took effect in 2009.
Thus, during wheat harvest 2011, Peruvian wheat buyers toured the United States to see how our country could meet their demands. They made a stop at a few grain elevators in Kansas.
While the country produces wheat, very little reaches flour mills, according to the U.S. Wheat Associates. The country imports about 55.6 million bushels annually, with the U.S. share roughly 37 million bushels.
Moreover, Kansas exported nearly $45 million worth of cereal grains to Peru in 2011, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
So, just like standing on the coal slurry, this will be another eye opener I’ll share in coming weeks. We’ll tour a mill and a chocolate plant. We’ll see an avocado farm and view research plots.
We’ll even dine on guinea pig – one of the “livestock” raised here.
Or so I’ll try.
You can read her blog here, or go to http://hutchnews.com/talesfromthecrib/.
Fred Vocasek, senior lab agronomist at our Dodge City Laboratory, is taking part of a symposium focusing on water security on Feb. 17. Here’s a press release from the American Society of Agronomy.
Thirsty crops and hungry people: ASA symposium to examine realities of water security
Feb. 12, 2013 – You may have guzzled a half-liter bottle of water at lunchtime, but your food and clothes drank a lot more. The same half-liter that quenched your thirst also produces only about one square-inch of bread or one square-inch of cotton cloth.
Agriculture is in fact one of the world’s most insatiable consumers of water. And yet it’s facing growing competition for water from cities, industry, and recreation at a time when demand for food is rising, and water is expected to become increasingly scarce. Take irrigation, for example, says Fred Vocasek, senior lab agronomist with the nation’s largest crop consulting firm, Servi-Tech, Inc., in Dodge City, Kan.
“Irrigation withdrawals in the United States have stabilized since about 1980, but food consumption trends are following the upward population trend,” he says. “In other words, we have an increasingly hungry world with stable, or limited, freshwater supplies for food production. So, how do we keep pace with the widening gap?”
That’s the central question behind the symposium, “Green Dreams, Blue Waves, and Shades of Gray: The Reality of Water,” being held Sunday, Feb. 17 from 8:30-11:30 a.m. at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston, Mass.
The principal answers, say the symposium speakers, lie in three areas: Protecting our limited stores of freshwater in lakes, streams, and the ground (blue water); optimizing the use of water in crop production (green water); and reusing “waste” water (gray water) that has already served some purpose, such as food processing or energy production.
But those answers also raise a host of additional questions, says Vocasek, who co-organized the session with John Sadler of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service. Who gets the water from an aquifer when farmers want it for irrigation, a gas company wants to pump it for fracking, or a city hopes to water a new golf course? How do we convince producers to adopt water-conserving technologies and practices when it’s not in their economic interest to do so? Why can’t farmers simply irrigate less?
The last question is especially complex because of the issue of “virtual” water—the hidden water in food that went into growing it, Vocasek says. If the United States, for instance, decides to conserve water in the Ogallala Aquifer by growing less corn and importing grain from China instead, it’s still consuming the virtual water that grew the Chinese corn. And because Chinese farmers use water much less efficiently than U.S. producers, by “trying to save water here, we may actually be wasting water on a global scale,” he says.
To portray the full extent of this complicated issue, “The Reality of Water” will begin with three talks on the three types of water—blue, green, and gray—and how they can be best used to ensure both adequate food and abundant water supplies for future generations. After those speakers “paint the picture,” Vocasek says, “the next three panelists will put the frame around that picture. Because there are limitations due to economics, there are limitations due to legal and ownership issues. And there are limitations due to day-to-day operations.”
For example, restricting water use in certain situations or regions can be a useful approach. But government agencies often can’t require landowners to cut consumption, because water rights—the right to divert water for specific purposes—are property rights in the United States. Reusing gray water to irrigate crops can also be tricky, because wastewater often carries salts or other contaminants that can damage the soil over time.
Yet another constraint is the large size of the average farm today, which often makes it unattractive for farmers to implement practices, such as cover crops and multi-year crop rotations, that help store water in the soil but take extra time and labor. “You can have a lot of plans,” Vocasek says, “but there are practicalities that we deal with, as well.”
This is why the symposium includes not only the perspectives of researchers and professors, but also crop consultants and professional agronomists who are “toe-to-toe” with the farmer, Vocasek adds.
“The theory, the research, the data are important, but you’ve got to have someone to help put it all together, because it can’t be done from a university or federal office,” he says. “It’s got to be done right there on the tractor seat.”
“Green Dreams, Blue Waves, and Shades of Gray: The Reality of Water” is sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy’s Water Security for Agriculture Task Force (chaired by Vocasek), and will be moderated by Ohio State University soil science professor, Rattan Lal.