CHICAGO (B)--Recent diversification of dryland crops has led to improved net farm incomes in northwest Kansas, according to Richard Wahl, economist with the NW Kansas Farm Management Association. In a presentation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2000 economic outlook conference in Washington, DC, Wahl touted the benefits of switching from a wheat-dominated rotation to one that includes corn or sorghum.

Wahl noted that during most of the past 50 years, dryland crop production in northwest Kansas has been focused on hard red winter wheat, with typically a wheat-fallow rotation. However, dryland spring-planted row crop acreage rose sharply in the region since 1996, due largely to its prospects to produce improved net income.

Wahl said, "Wheat-corn-fallow shows excellent potential but also significant variability. Wheat-sorghum-fallow lacks overall potential yet does not present the downside risk of the corn rotation. The traditional wheat-fallow, particularly because of its lack of intensity, is weak in net income-generating capacity by comparison."

With the advent of no-till methods of production, Wahl found that a wheat-corn-fallow or wheat-sorghum-fallow rotation leaves wheat stubble to catch and hold moisture ahead of the row crop and allows two crops in three years.

Wahl found that, along with the changing mix of dryland crops, the intensity of cropping also is increasing. In some cases, the wheat-corn-fallow rotation has given way to a wheat-corn-sorghum-fallow rotation.

In 1988, just more than half of dryland acreage in the region was fallow. In 1998, only 38% of dryland acreage was fallow.

"This cropping intensity appears to be a fairly permanent part of western Kansas agriculture," said Wahl.

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