Kansas livestock stakeholders gather to discuss future of industry
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Kansas has long depended on its agricultural bounty to sustain the state's economy. With an eye to opportunities for expansion the future may bring, Gov. Sam Brownback gathered cattle stakeholders in Garden City Sept. 28 for the Governor's Economic Summit on Animal Agriculture. His goal was to bring livestock producers together to discuss issues that affect animal agriculture in the hopes of finding ways to encourage new ventures and grow existing ones in the state.
"What we're after with this is an expansion of animal agriculture in Kansas," Brownback said. While Kansas still has many opportunities in other sectors of its economy, the state is a world leader in agriculture. Brownback said Kansas has a strength in agriculture that no other state can boast and can compete on a global scale. "We are a global competitor in agriculture and we can go to Wall Street or any place else and talk about agriculture and do so with authority.
"We have an excellent opportunity, given what's happening with animal agriculture in other parts of the country and the increasing demand for animal protein in other parts of the world," he continued. This emerging situation offers great opportunities within the state to expand pork, poultry, and dairy livestock production, as well as their affiliated processing businesses. Kansas, which has led beef cattle production in the United States for many years, could also see opportunities to expand that sector of its livestock-based economy, too.
The day began with a welcome from Brownback and a keynote address from Scott Fleetwood of Novus International. Fleetwood explained that the state's successful animal agriculture economic sector is due to Kansas's commitment to creating a welcoming environment for that industry to thrive and grow. "If we are successful, it's because we have created a more profitable environment here than other places in the U.S.," he said. "Forty to 50 years ago we were ideal for cattle production and we still are--the innovation and attitude is already here. You are the innovators to take it to the next level. We're here to find those ideas that promote innovation in the state."
From there the nearly 200 producers in attendance split into several breakout sessions to focus on topics such as labor, food safety, animal welfare and animal health, marketing and innovation, global perspectives and technology, and the Kansas advantage. State leaders in each field led each breakout session.
In the Animal Welfare and Animal Health breakout session, for example, Dr. Mike Siemens, Cargil Meat Solutions, and Dr. Dan Thomson, Kansas State University, led the discussion about ways Kansas livestock producers can address the public's concerns about animal welfare and how that could play into growing consumer demand for the state's products. Producers in the room brought up ideas such as consumer education about livestock production methods and target audiences for those efforts. They also discussed animal rights legislation that's been passed in other states and how Kansas could benefit from interstate migration of those affected businesses.
"The thing that surprises me every time is how much producers in Kansas want to do the right thing," Thomson said in regard to the discussions in the breakout sessions. "They want to be held accountable, to be responsible and progressive and innovative. And the No. 1 thing they want to do is to take care of their animals."
Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman said he was thrilled to see so many Kansas livestock producers and stakeholders come out for the summit and share their input to improving their industry.
Of all the breakout sessions, communication efforts seemed to be key--whether it was improving communication between producers and consumers or between rural and urban citizens. Rodman said he will task the department's agricultural marketing group to consider how the state is communicating its agricultural and rural messages to various audiences.
Overall, Rodman said, Kansas has a lot to offer animal agricultural businesses looking to relocate--from friendly environmental regulations, to available feed and water supplies, to wide open spaces ideal for expansion.
"In the dairy industry in particular, if you look at what's happening across the U.S., urban encroachment, environmental regulations, concerns about nutrient placement and feed and water supplies are causing people to consider moving their operations," Rodman said. "The sweet spot of the U.S. is from Dalhart, Texas, up to the Dakotas--right through this area." Rodman added that if American farmers and ranchers are to be tasked with providing the food for a growing world population, than Kansas is the place where everything clicks to make it happen.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807, or firstname.lastname@example.org.