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Navigating water challenges in Kansas agriculture
Kansas Ag Connection - 11/20/2023

In northwest Kansas, the prominence of corn in agriculture is unmistakable, especially at Hoxie Feedyard where it's a key feed for 60,000 cattle. Corn, being Kansas' most valuable crop, generated $3.6 billion in 2022, surpassing winter wheat by $1.5 billion. While widely used for various purposes from ethanol to cornstarch and animal feed, corn cultivation faces a significant challenge: its high-water requirement.

The growing concern over the decrease of the Ogallala Aquifer has highlighted the issue of corn's water usage. Over half of Kansas' irrigated acres are used for corn, making it essential to focus on water conservation in agriculture. The region's dependence on corn and cattle farming makes it challenging to cut down on water use without impacting the agricultural economy.

Research from Kansas State University indicates that additional irrigation can substantially increase corn yields, incentivizing higher water usage for financial gain. Transitioning to sustainable farming practices, such as efficient irrigation, genetically enhanced crops, and improved weeding and tilling, is crucial. These changes necessitate widespread adoption among farmers to make a significant impact.

Technological advancements in irrigation offer a partial solution, focusing on delivering water closer to the roots rather than sprinkler systems which lead to higher evaporation rates. The potential for improvement is limited, suggesting that further advancements in crop genetics and farming practices are needed.

Alternative crops like cotton, which can thrive in drought conditions and require less water, present a viable option. Cotton's resilience during droughts and its adaptability to cooler regions like Kansas make it a promising crop for reducing water usage.

The agricultural community is exploring diversification in crop choices, considering less water-intensive forages for cattle feed. This shift supports long-term conservation efforts while maintaining the economic viability of local farms and feedyards.

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