A lack of sophistication or a lack of understanding?
By Holly Martin
Ask a consumer on the street what Kansas is known for, and Dorothy and Toto would come up. After that, however, chances are most consumers would know that Kansas is the Wheat State. And they would be right. Kansas ranks first in wheat production. But according to Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, that’s not necessarily something to be proud of.
During the groundbreaking for improvements to the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, Brewer said, “The first impression off the plane is the impression they’ll have of the city of Wichita, and they’re going to recognize that the city of Wichita and our region, we’re very sophisticated and maybe we’re not the rural, farming industry, and things of that nature that some think of us as in other states and other places. We’re more sophisticated. We are the Air Capital of the World.”
True, Wichita has become known as the Air Capital of the World due to its ties to aircraft manufacturing. But to say that farmers and rural Kansans aren’t sophisticated? That’s simply just not the case and it speaks loudly about Brewer’s lack of knowledge about agriculture.
In fact, agriculture, not aviation, is the No. 1 industry in Kansas. The industry employs more than 427,000 people and contributes over $33 billion to the state’s economy, which is over a quarter of the state’s gross regional product.
In response to the mayor’s comments, Kent Winter wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Wichita Eagle. Winter is president of the Sedgwick County Farm Bureau, the county where Wichita resides.
In the letter he said, “Each farmer in this country now feeds 155 people, thanks to an extremely sophisticated array of technology, modern equipment and infrastructure that has been yoked together to yield a plentiful supply of food. The average American household spends 10 percent of disposable income on food, while many other countries spend double or triple that figure. Why not mention food production and processing in the same sentence with aviation? What is there to be ashamed of?”
In addition, Winter invited the mayor to visit a Sedgwick County farm. The mayor should make that trip. Then he might see something different than the misconception he has in his mind of what today’s farmers really do.
To Brewer's credit, he did respond at length to Winter's comments in a column in the Wichita Eagle. The mayor acknowledged his choice of words were careless. Brewer thanked Winter for his thoughtful response and the mayor praised Kansas farmers for their impact on the state and Wichita economy. Still work needs to be done.
Maybe Brewer could sit down with Winter or one of his fellow producers as he develops his marketing plan. He could learn the complicated maze of puts and calls and margin and futures and decide if an unsophisticated person might be able to navigate through them. Or maybe he should look at a variable rate fertilizer application maps and GPS systems and the knowledge it takes to gather this data and apply it to practical use. Perhaps he should try to understand a spreadsheet of seed varieties and their potential based on performance results.
In fact, Mr. Mayor, farming is quite sophisticated these days.
Thankfully, producers like Kent Winter are stepping up and taking the opportunity to offer consumer education. Let's hope Brewer takes advantage of it.
Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.