Gov. Bill Graves had the opportunity to see first-hand the diversity of agriculture in Kansas on the 26th annual Farm Bureau Governor's Tour, Sept. 25.
This year's tour took Graves to Clark county, where he, along with a number of state legislators, toured three operations, all of which highlighted the issues and concerns surrounding the variety of crop and livestock production in Kansas, voiced by the producers.
"This can have a tremendous opportunity to influence the governor and the legislators," said Stan Ahlerich, Winfield, Kansas Farm Bureau president. "They have to have the correct understanding and data, because that is where a lot of these issues are fought--on the floor of the capitol, and on the governor's desk."
"This is a well-attended event today, and we hope, as a result, we can translate some of these issues of concern into good policy, in Topeka," Graves said. "Topeka does come to southwest Kansas, and we do listen."
The first stop on the tour landed the group of 110 at the Weddle-Baker Farm, near Minneola. Producers of wheat, grain sorghum and stocker cattle, the Weddle Ranch, in operation since 1909, recently has begun a transition to minimal- and no-till farming, according to Bill Baker, co-operator of the farm. This has allowed them to insert grain sorghum into their wheat-fallow rotation.
While improving their productivity, Kerri Baker, Bill's wife, said the reason for their success on the farm is much simpler.
"We love the land, and we love the life," she said.
From the Weddle Farm, the governor's tour proceeded to the Giles Ranch, in northeastern Clark County. Home to three generations of the Giles family, the ranch consists of a cow-calf operation, replacement heifers and a stocker-feeder operation. Roger Giles said his family has worked a great deal in recent years to improve conservation.
"In the last 10 years, we have had a lot of land in the Conservation Reserve Program," Giles said. "We have sowed improved grasses. We are gradually taking more of our farm ground and putting it to grass."
Despite efforts to improve conservation like theirs, Giles said cattle producers face great odds in competing with other commodities, like chicken, simply due to input costs.
"Even at our best, we can not compete with chicken, on a cost basis," he said.
One way Giles said his operation has worked to increase productivity has been to improve carcass quality and gainability, which can improve the product overall for the consumer.
"We have to provide our consumers a good eating experience," Giles said.
The final stop on the governor's tour of Clark County was the Gardiner Angus Ranch, near Ashland. With 115 years of experience, the Gardiner family currently utilizes embryo transfer and artificial insemination in their cattle operation. The message to Graves, from the proprietors of the Gardiner Ranch, were clear.
"If there is one thing we could stand up on our podium and say is please, please do not take away our right and ability to market our cattle and our wheat away from us," said Garth Gardiner, co-operator of the ranch and Clark County Farm Bureau president. "The agriculture economy is depressed right now, but we are excited to be in the beef cattle business, not only in Clark County, but the United States of America."
Gardiner praised Graves and other legislators for their efforts in agricultural policy.
"Gov. Graves, you have had the foresight enough to say, 'Give our producers the opportunity to be paid for what they are producing,'" he said.
One issue that was emphasized by each producer throughout the tour was using "value-added" practices to improve profitability and, in turn, the ability to compete in the market. Mark Gardiner, co-operator of Gardiner Ranch, said he believes this is the single most important issue to agriculture today.
"Someone asked me, 'What are you going to get out of this tour?' I said, 'What I am going to get out of it is that everybody here that is a part of agriculture, they work hard every day. They get up early every morning to add value to their products,'" Gardiner said. "We need markets and the ability to compete. I am quite confident that the United States of America, and certainly Kansas, can compete, if we are given the opportunity."
Graves said, in addition to being able to greet and interact with the producers, the tour provides himself and other legislators the opportunity to hear their concerns, in a manner not accessible any other way.
"In a very forceful, but very friendly way, we heard some of the issues of concern," Graves said. "Events like this are what really bring public policy-makers in touch with the challenges and problems they face. You have to take the time to bring us out here, show us, explain it to us and be willing to sit down and help us work through how we implement those changes."
Ahlerich said there is no better way for the governor to learn about the issues and concerns in Kansas agriculture than to hear it from producers.
"There is such a tradition of knowledge and understanding of Kansas agriculture," Ahlerich said. "You can see it in their eyes, and you can tell it comes from their hearts."
While it is of great importance that he and other legislators interact with producers through tours like that through Clark County, Graves said it also is meaningful that other Kansans outside of agriculture share the experience.
"Coming out and seeing this beautiful country and sharing the great hospitality and seeing these families engage in agriculture production is very special, and something we need to share with more Kansans, so they will appreciate it," Graves said. "What they represent is a quality of life that we are very proud that we have in Kansas."