Drought has Kansas and Missouri farmers looking for ways to adapt.

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With a multi-year drought in both Kansas and Missouri not letting up, the future of farming is looking dry. Researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas are helping farmers adapt to an uncertain future.

At the University of Kansas, researchers at the Kansas Geological Survey are currently working on a new project, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, that focuses on the Kansas River Watershed and how drier conditions might impact it. 

“We’re really trying to look at the future of the Kansas River Watershed and understand, under anticipated future climates, how agricultural water use requirements might change,” says Sam Zipper, project director and assistant scientist at the KGS.

A watershed is an area of land that “drains” surface water, such as snowmelt or rain, into a body of water, like the Kansas River. Researchers are concerned that the ongoing drought will cause the watershed to dry out, causing water levels in the Kansas River to decrease and impact irrigation. 

If this occurs, farmers will need to modify the amounts of water they use for agriculture. If farmers have to use less water, they will need to use new techniques to continue growing crops.

Using a $25 million grant from the USDA, the University of Missouri is similarly working with farmers to develop these new techniques and prepare them for a drier future. 

“MU has some of the best agriculture research minds in the world, and this collaborative partnership demonstrates the reaching nature of our impact,” University of Missouri Board of Curators chair Darryl Chatman said in a press release. “Food production is a key issue as we look to the future of our collective global health. Our outreach efforts with this project will help all farmers establish the best possible practices for their crops and livestock in the midst of floods, droughts and other severe weather.”

MU specifically is helping farmers adapt to new techniques such as cover crops and agroforestry, both of which aim to increase the health of soil as much as possible in drier conditions. Cover crops make farmers grow crops in a way that covers the soil in between planted rows, often increasing soil moisture even with lower amounts of rainfall. Agroforestry integrates pasture and crops with trees and shrubs instead of growing isolated crops. The trees shield crops from extreme weather and create a new environment for animals in the area, improving biodiversity.

State officials hope both projects allow the agriculture industry to continue steady output while also keeping sustainability in mind. 

“Agriculture is the number one industry in Missouri, and we are proud that the partnership between MU and the USDA will help support farmers all across the state,” Missouri Governor Mike Parson said in a press release. “We have some of the greatest minds here in Missouri working to solve issues in agriculture and beyond. We look forward to this project’s success in helping our farmers implement more resilient practices that allow them to better feed and fuel the world now and into the future.”  

To see a story about an invasive fish by author Emma Flannery, check here.

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