Kansas Farmers Adapt Crop Mix to Combat Climate Change

Kansas farmers are feeling the heat. Effects of climate change – warmer temperatures, dryer soil, intensified rainstorms, and flooding – create a threat to Kansas agriculture. Still, a report by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) finds that a more diverse Kansas crop mix would aid by cutting water use and boosting nutrition per acre.

The report, “Environmental Defense Fund study, Kansas in 2050: A pathway for climate-resilient crop production” found that the need for urgent action to make Kansas agriculture more resilient is now.

Eileen McLellan, Lead Senior Scientist at EDF and one of the authors of the Kansas in 2050 report, says, “By 2050, we project that the current rainfed crop mix in Kansas will be unsustainable due to higher temperatures and growing water scarcity. Continuing with business as usual will deplete groundwater to dangerously low levels.”

The EDF study used a suite of climate models that predict that Kansas will become both hotter and drier by mid-century. Alongside a set of crop growth models, the EDF report found that yields of wheat, corn, and soybeans will likely decline under these climate conditions. Reduced water supplies – due both to decreased rainfall and legal restrictions on water use – will further reduce the yields of these crops, the study predicts.

“By far, the most significant finding from our research was the need for urgent action to make our Kansas agriculture more resilient today.”

McLellan says to lessen climate impacts on the state’s crop mix, a substantial portion will need to be replaced with more drought-tolerant species by mid-century.

“Adding diverse grains like oats, millet, rye, and sorghum into traditional rotations of wheat, corn, and soybeans presents a promising pathway toward climate-resilient food production in the state. This strategy not only reduces water consumption by 12 percent but also enhances nutritional output per acre, offering a sustainable path forward for Kansas farmers.”

According to the study, many farmers have already started climate adaptation efforts.

“They’re adjusting farming practices, growing different crops, and shifting planting and harvesting timelines. But they can go farther and faster with support from food companies, agricultural lenders, and policymakers.

“Farmers can’t make this vital transition alone. We must ensure that agricultural policy and markets incentivize crop diversification and that farmers have financial and technical assistance to make this transition,” McLellan says.

Reimagining the crop mix with support from industry, policymakers, and agricultural lenders is a crucial step toward supporting Kansas farmers and creating a more climate-resilient agricultural system.