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Scientists: Warmer, Drier Climate Affecting Wheat Yields

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS) – Kansas State University researchers have pinpointed how much hot, dry and windy weather it takes to stifle wheat production. The recent study found that just 10 hours of extreme heat, dryness and wind together can reduce wheat production by 4%. 

Kansas saw more than its share of those days over the past year. And K-State agronomy professor Stephen Welch says those extreme events are becoming more common here. “That precise combination of events has been increasing over the 40-year period due to climate change,” he said. “That’s a key factor.” 

The study also found that the extreme weather in Kansas is tied to a specific long-term temperature cycle in the Pacific Ocean. That connection could help predict the risks that wheat crops face in coming decades.

Norton County resident Chris Tanner has felt the impact of a warming climate on his farm in northwest Kansas. Many of his wheat fields didn’t produce enough to bother harvesting at all. 

“It can be very, very bountiful or it can be the complete polar opposite and be a famine,” he said. “You have to learn how to weather those storms in life.” 

The study says the frequency and intensity of extreme hot, dry, windy events are likely to increase as the earth continues to warm in the coming decades.

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