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USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach speaks to ag stakeholders at the Kansas Governor’s Summit for Agriculture Growth Aug 29, in Manhattan, Kansas. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

Agriculture drives the Kansas economy. The 66 ag and food sectors plus food retail and ethanol production contributed $77 billion to the state’s economic success and account for nearly 51% of the state’s total economy and more than a fifth of the state’s workforce.

Agriculture really is the state’s bread and butter. It’s so critical to the success of the state’s economy that four years ago the Governor’s Economic Council developed the Kansas Governor’s Summit for Agriculture Growth, which gathers hundreds of agricultural leaders across all sectors of the state to identify challenges and opportunities and crowd-source solutions and action items. It’s a day-long event designed to provide the Kansas Department of Agriculture and other public and private industry partners grassroots guidance in how to grow this most critical sector of the state’s economy.

This year’s Ag Growth Summit was Aug. 29, in Manhattan, Kansas. Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers and Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Mike Beam welcomed participants on behalf of Gov. Laura Kelly, who was unable to attend.

“Wherever we go, all over the state, it’s a constant, longstanding theme—farmers, ranchers  and agribusiness is the key to the backbone of Kansas,” Lt. Gov. Rogers said. “The work you do matters. Not just in our communities, but in our state, in our nation and in the world.”

Rogers recently traveled the state to gather input for the new Office of Rural Prosperity, an effort to focus on the expanding opportunities available in rural Kansas. He said that the Kelly administration is looking at ways to invest in rural infrastructure, from leveling the broadband playing field in rural Kansas to supporting rural hospitals through recruiting medical professionals and encouraging tourism and building agribusiness in our communities.

“Government should work for small town Kansas, and much of rural Kansas has been hurt by recent cuts, harder than urban Kansas,” Rogers told the capacity audience. “Often rural Kansas is not heard in the Capitol. A lot of times your stories don’t reach our cousins in urban Kansas. I intend to change that and take that message of rural Kansas to the whole state.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach spoke at lunch, providing attendees with an update on policy and trade issues. He led off with an update about the Tyson Fresh Meats plant fire in Holcomb, Kansas, and its effect on the cattle market.

“We’ve seen fat cattle prices drop and boxed beef cutout prices rise, and the weekly cattle slaughter stayed at the past levels pre-fire,” he said. The spread between fed cattle and boxed beef is at a level not seen since 1991, he added. So Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is using authority under the Packers and Stockyards Act to open a formal investigation this situation, Ibach told attendees. So far the USDA is providing enough graders and inspectors that the chains continue to move and the plants aren’t experiencing a bottleneck, he said.

“It’s important producers know USDA is being vigilant of its roles and ensure that trade is fair and equitable,” he said.

Of other interest to Kansas’ agriculture growth is trade, and Ibach said the weekend’s news that the U.S. reached a trade agreement with Japan and that China is reaching out to the U.S. to come back to the trade table is encouraging.

“This isn’t a time to blink,” Ibach said. “If we blink now, we lose our influence on negotiations.”

The day’s breakout sessions among the various agricultural growth sectors touched on a lot of topics, from bringing a dairy beef processing plant to the state for the growing dairy industry, to addressing the emerging needs of new cotton growers in the southern part of the state. Each sector gathered input to write up white papers that will steer the state’s efforts for the next year.

Perhaps one of the most widely anticipated sector breakouts was for the emerging industrial hemp industry in the state. Farmer Jay Garetson, of Haskell County, sat on a panel of early adopters to discuss how hemp can provide opportunities to his farm and his community.

Garetson explained that he and his family are raising a few hundred acres of hemp for cannabidiol oil (CBD) under the state’s research licensing because in the short term it makes financial sense for the family.

“Without industrial hemp, I wasn’t going to allow our next generation to consider agriculture in Kansas,” he said. The economic incentives to raise this crop had to be weighed against the risks in being one of the first to raise hemp in the state. But even so, Garetson told the session that he believes so strongly in hemp that he had his sons take sabbaticals from their college educations to come back to the farm and work on their hemp crop this year.

Still, there are challenges that the panelists identified for the future growth of hemp. These include the need to have conversations about pollen drift from fields of fiber hemp to CBD hemp plants that can ruin CBD production, Garetson said.

“Pollen drift will be a bigger problem than dicamba and 2,4-D drift combined,” he predicted, since pollination reduces a plant’s CBD production and therefore a farmer’s return on investment. The panelists also identified the need for more focus on market development and reporting; research into CBD extraction methods; research into fiber and grain usage; and more.

Results from the Kansas Ag Growth Summit can be found online at www.agriculture.ks.gov/GrowAg. The feedback and direct input from stakeholders is compiled there, and those with input on the topics at hand can call the Grow Kansas team at the KDA at 785-564-6700. 

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

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