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We're all in the same boat

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By Jennifer M. Latzke

The meeting was for rural economic development professionals. You know, those folks who are hired to ensure that Main Street storefronts are full.

If you consider our rural communities are like big ships, the rural economic development administrators are the first mates that make sure the crew is on task and the ship doesn’t capsize.

Now, the topic of the meeting that day was water—a divisive issue as any that come before our towns and surrounding communities. Water, and who has it or doesn’t have it, is arguably more divisive than who serves on the school board and more contentious than generations of inter-family feuding. There is a reason, after all, for the Old West adage “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

This is why the rural economic development professionals were there, learning about the associated issues surrounding the declining Ogallala Aquifer and how the extended drought can and will affect their communities. More importantly, they were there to understand how all members of the community are in the same boat when it comes to water.

It was during the question and answer segment after Director of the Kansas Water Office Tracy Streeter spoke that a comment came from the audience that caused me to pause.

A gentleman spoke up and said, to the effect, that he didn’t rightly care if Kansas exported one more grain of wheat overseas, that it was those farmers who are wasting all the water, not the cities, and they need to stop it.

Really, sir? Were you gone the day they taught that every segment of the community is related?

The farmer plants the seeds he bought from the salesman down the road. He buys parts at your dealership in town. He buys crop inputs and livestock feed from the cooperative and lunch in your café.

His wife works in your school or in your hospital or in your nursing home. His children attend your schools. His property taxes pay for community services. He sits on the school board, the fair board and the church social committee.

If he’s successful, he turns resources like sun, soil and water into valuable crops to sell. If he’s successful, your Main Street businesses are too. If he’s successful, his family stays in the community, your schools stay full and there’s a reason to keep your hospital doors open.

If that farmer succeeds, the ship stays afloat.

How does he do it? The same way all businesses do—keep costs low, manage financial risk, and try to match the market demand for his crops the best he can. He’s successful when he can maximize the efficiency of all of his inputs, water included.

That market demand is not all domestic, by the way. In fact, quite a lot of demand for our U.S. crops and livestock comes from overseas markets. Exports play a huge role in setting the prices farmers receive.

Which brings us back to that comment earlier. Yes, sir, you do indeed care if we export one more grain of wheat, one more kernel of corn, one more soybean or one more box of beef.

Now is not the time to point fingers and focus on laying blame for water woes. That way leads to a capsized ship.

Instead, the crews of our rural communities have got to work together—farmer, teacher, banker, and rural economic development professional alike—to find solutions to the water issues their communities face. Sit down, talk it out, like neighbors.

We’re all in the same boat in the end.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

Date: 4/21/2014



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