Sometimes, it isn’t that the handwriting on the wall is indecipherable, it’s just that the message refuses to be acknowledged.
There’s the buggy-whip-business analogy, or more recently changes technology has brought about that have impacted and are changing communications, education, computers, banking, media, retail and nearly every facet of life in the United States. Agriculture is not exempt from reality, whether it’s imposed by technology or other factors.
The case in point is the continued depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, which for years has enabled western Kansas farmers to sustain crops primarily to feed cattle to supply beef for consumers.
The aquifer is going dry to the point that the cost of pumping water from it no longer makes economic sense to the users.
And to call the concept of a multi-billion-dollar canal from the Missouri River to resupply the aquifer a pipe dream is to denigrate pipe dreams.
At the same time that the Kansas Geological Survey is again measuring the drop in the aquifer, Josh Svaty, a former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture now with the Land Institute, spoke in Lawrence about the economy related to the aquifer. He did so in the same time frame of recent reports of Kansas farmers turning to cotton as a crop that has more economic feasibility than the grains the aquifer long has made possible.
The confluence of attention given to these related matters, and the importance of the topics, should not be lost. While time permits, a means should be found to encourage landholders in Western Kansas to examine what the Salina-based Land Institute can offer: research and information about commercial crops better suited to the climate and soil conditions above the aquifer.
It should not be left to the Land Institute alone. As Gov. Sam Brownback has acknowledged, “Water and the Kansas economy are directly linked. Water is a finite resource and without further planning and action we will no longer be able to meet our state’s current needs, let alone growth.” That report should include a path to a suitable crop transition in Western Kansas that can protect its economy while moving it away from its insatiable thirst for the Ogallala water.
A gubernatorial task force is charged with reporting this coming November. Let’s hope the handwriting on the wall is in large clear print and that the message gets through.