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Climate change hits farmers

News editor

It you think it’s hot this week, wait a few decades.

A recent study by the Corps of Engineers predicts average temperatures around Marion Reservoir will rise 3 to 5 degrees by 2050.

While the increase may sound minimal, researchers at Kansas State University have concluded such a rise in average temperatures could reduce wheat yield by 6 percent.

“That would be significant,” county extension agent Ricky Roberts said. “It’s a futuristic thing we’re talking about, not anything we’re going to see in the next five years. Hopefully we have the foresight and the vision to work on it.”

Jesse Poland, director of the Applied Wheat Genomics Lab at K-State, is doing just that.

Poland is conducting research on heat-resistant wheat varieties, collaborating with scientists in Southeast Asia and Mexico. His work also applies to Kansas, where weather already is warmer than optimal for wheat.

“As far as heat stress and other conditions, it’s similar to what Kansas growers are challenged by,” Poland said. “We’re at a vulnerable point, where increasing temperatures will have a negative impact.”

The biggest challenge of higher annual temperatures isn’t heat stress.

“With high temperature, it accelerates plant growth and shortens the length of the growing season,” Poland said.

With less time before wheat reaches maturity, kernels don’t fill out as much as they do in longer seasons. That reduces yields.

K-State researcher Vara Prasad said higher annual temperatures also could be detrimental at the start of growing seasons.

“If it coincides with the sprouting period, fertilization is affected, so you don’t have enough grain numbers,” Prasad said.

Temperature extremes lasting a few days also can affect wheat and decrease yields.

“If we have extreme cold and extreme heat, both are extremely bad for the plants,” he said. “That’s more of an issue now. Even two or three days of heat stress is enough to cause stress in current strains. Right now we need to look for varieties that have resilience for extreme events.”

Poland is optimistic that heat-resistant wheat varieties will be available in time for county farmers to adapt.

“It typically takes 8 to 12 years to develop a new wheat variety,” he said. “If we can speed up that process, you have a better chance of staying ahead of any temperature increase.”

New wheat varieties are essential as global demand for wheat increases, Roberts said, but the industry should be attentive to potential buyers with concerns about genetically engineered crops.

“I think farmers will adapt to it fine; we need our customers to adapt,” he said. “If our customers don’t want it, then our hands are tied.”

Wheat genomic research could benefit ongoing research for corn, soybeans, sorghum, and other county crops, Roberts said.

Last modified July 6, 2016

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