This year, the "breadbasket of the United States" is filled with more cornbread than wheat rolls, according to new statistics.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released statistics which show, in the past year, the production of corn surpassed that of wheat as the leader in Kansas. However, according to Jim Shroyer, professor of agronomy, at Kansas State University, this is nothing out of the ordinary. "We have seen years like this before," he said. "It seems like it happens almost every 10 years."
This change in crop production can be attributed to a number of factors, according to Shroyer and Dale Fjell, professor of agronomy. One reason for the slight decrease in wheat production has been the pattern of precipitation and overall dry conditions across the state in the last year.
"We have been inches and inches behind in normal rainfall," Shroyer said.
"Wheat is grown basically between September and June or July, and we get most of our rain in May, June and July," Fjell said. "By the time we start getting a lot of rain, the wheat has matured, for the most part, and can't make use of the moisture.
However, this precipitation cycle coincides with the growth seasons of irrigated and dryland row crops, which, in Kansas, consist primarily of corn, sorghum, soybeans and sunflowers.
The apparent decrease in production of wheat has not completely been because of inhospitable growing conditions, according to Fjell. On the contrary, improvements in technology in recent years, aid farmers in producing more lucrative row crops, thus leading to increases in production that surpass that of wheat.
"Corn has seen the biggest advancement in genetics," Fjell said. "With the increased use of crop rotation, farmers can utilize more land year after year, instead of having land lay fallow in alternate seasons. Now, we are able to really intensify the rotation. We basically have 5 million acres of land in Kansas that used to just lay fallow to play with."
In addition to crop rotation, other advances have been made through research to improve the plants and the management of varying growing conditions.
"We are fine-tuning production and management," Fjell said. "Even though we have had less rain, yields continue to remain high because of better hybrids and soil conservation."