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3 farm topics to watch in 2024

The Kansas Commodity Classic brings corn, wheat, soybean and sorghum farmers together.

Jennifer M. Latzke

February 6, 2024

5 Min Read
people at Kansas Commodity Classic
FULL HOUSE: The Kansas Commodity Classic on Jan. 26 in Salina, Kan., saw a full house of the state’s corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers gathered to hear about policy and production concerns they’ll need to watch in 2024. Jennifer M. Latzke

No matter what crop they grow, no matter which county they call home, Kansas farmers know they share overarching policy and production challenges.

The Kansas Commodity Classic brings corn, wheat, sorghum and soybean farmers together each year to hear updates from their respective organizations, industry leaders and elected officials.

This year’s meeting, Jan. 26 in Salina, Kan., covered a range of topics. Here are three of them:

1. Weather. Ross Janssen, chief meteorologist with KWCH in Wichita, Kan., spoke about weather modeling and the opportunity for ideal spring crop conditions.

The state has been benefiting from moisture brought by the El Nino weather pattern, with most of Kansas finally seeing drought conditions falling back to D0 to D1, he said. As we go further into spring, with more saturated ground from January snowfall, some farmers may see ponds and lakes refilling.

He counseled that February could be a wetter-than-average month, with at least average snowfall outlooks in the 5- to 10-inch range for the month, if not higher. And temperatures could see a stretch of teens and 20s, Janssen said, going through mid-February into March.

“I think that February, March, on average, probably across the entire Central Plains, looks near colder than average and looks like we’re probably going to have a wet spring,” he said. “I think we’re going to have decent chances for snow moving through February and March.”

Janssen said he wouldn’t be shocked to see a May with higher-than-average rainfall, in the range of 4 to 6 inches of rain on a large scale.

“I would not be shocked to see a May with a really wet setup across the Plains,” he said. He said with a high level of certainty that that wet spring could lead to a summer with at least average rainfall, nothing like the past couple of summers.

“And because of all this moisture that we see going into the spring, your summer temperatures are not going to be as hot as they have been the last couple of years,” he said.

“As we went through last summer, the El Nino influence started to bring back the rain to western Kansas,” Janssen added.

But he cautioned that there is a 60% to 80% chance that going into summer and early fall this year, the La Nina pattern will return. That may not mean the state will fall back into drought conditions, he said, if the next La Nina pattern isn’t a persistent one that sticks around for multiple years.

2. Policy. Kansas state Rep. Ken Rahjes, chair of the Kansas House Ag and Natural Resources Committee, provided a policy update from Topeka.

He said there’s a bill that has passed through committee that will reduce the fees for licenses to grow industrial hemp in the state.

Water is a key topic of concern in Topeka, Rahjes said. But still, there’s a big hurdle in bringing all the state’s water stakeholders to an understanding that the solutions will be complex. He spoke of stakeholders mistakenly thinking that just turning off the taps to southwest Kansas irrigators will fix the water crisis.

“We need to quit demonizing those who use water for agricultural purposes,” Rahjes said. “They are making progress, and I think if you listen to folks there, they’ll tell the story of the progress they’re making.”

Rahjes said foreign land ownership is also a topic of interest in this session in Topeka. There’s a new bill that’s being introduced that he calls the “Kansas Way” on foreign ownership of land. It’s a food security and homeland security issue, he said, but there are methods Kansas can adopt that will protect agriculture growers and landowners from bad actors on the U.S. State Department’s list.

“We have to be very careful,” Rahjes said. “There’s a very fine line. Our nation’s security is upmost, and security is key. But we are a nation of capitalists. So, do you want to be told that this is what you can sell your land for?”

Taxes, of course, are top of mind, Rahjes said. The state has a surplus of funds, and the debate in Topeka is how to give Kansans some breathing room on their property taxes and still keep momentum going.

While the governor vetoed the recent flat tax bill, there are other proposals out there that would stop state taxes on Social Security benefits and make the first $100,000 of your primary residence’s value tax free, and a few other things. There’s a lot of work still to be done, Rahjes said.

3. Farmer sentiment. Jim Mintert, professor and Extension economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, shared insights from the Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer. This creates a farmer sentiment index that can help economists gauge the health of the U.S. agricultural economy.

Mintert said while farmer sentiment has been stronger than it was in 2015 and 2016, it has been relatively weak. This is despite high net farm income adjusted for inflation.

He shared insights from the 2020 election cycle, which reflected farmers were focused on how the change in administration may affect how their business is conducted through regulations, taxes and trade. On the cost side, farmers are paying more to put a crop in the ground, in some cases 25% to 40% higher than 2014 and 2016 levels, Mintert said.

“High input prices, high cost of production, is clearly bothering people,” he said, followed by the fear of lower crop and livestock prices in 2024.

Mintert also said that a majority of farmers surveyed, month after month, going back to 2015, said they don’t feel it’s a good time to make large investments in their farming operation. They point to high interest rates and high costs of machinery, he added.

However, he pointed out that machinery inventories are starting to tick back up, and it might be a good time to negotiate a better price for equipment that’s been sitting on the lot.

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About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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