Still producing a winner

1/26/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

While the ongoing drought continues to be a challenge for Kansas agriculture, the state's secretary of agriculture said Friday that the future looks good for farmers and producers due to coming increase in world demand for food.

Dale Rodman, head of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, told a crowd during Friday's Garden City Farm and Ranch show that Kansas agriculture remains the largest economic driver for the state.

"We know growth in agriculture equals job creation, and statewide economic growth. Agriculture, like other sectors of the economy, has faced serious challenges in recent years, but it continues to grow," Rodman said.

Rodman said farm exports of Kansas agriculture products totalled more than $3.68 billion, a 35 percent growth, and accounted for nearly 32 percent of all Kansas exports.

Demand for food is expected to increase over the next 30 years. Rodman said that in order to meet the demand, farmers will need to produce as much food in those three decades as has been produced in the last 10,000 years.

Though there's been a lot of technological advances in farming, Rodman said, the only way to meet that kind of demand while using less land and water is with better technology.

"So it will be important to continue to develop state's students to give them the skills and training needed to make those advances," he said.

The rising demand, especially for meat, creates a tremendous opportunity for Kansas to enter those markets.

"Kansas itself is an underutilized asset that's really needed for the world in the future. The total dynamic ag sector is readying itself to meet this diverse and broader demand," he said.

However, the ongoing drought is the biggest challenge right now. Rodman said all 105 counties in the state are primary federal disaster areas due to the drought, now in its third year, and the impact is apparent on both grain and beef production.

In 2012, the production of corn, sorghum and soybeans were down 16, 26 and 17 percent, respectively, from the previous year. Rodman said strong grain market prices and a robust federal crop insurance program has greatly helped farmers on that end, but livestock producers have really felt the pinch of skyrocketing grain prices forcing some to liquidate animal herds.

"We're the third largest beef state, processing and producing. Even before the drought hit, we were approaching a record low in cow-calf numbers," he said. "I'm not here to incite fear, but providing drought relief and assistance to try and support our beef industry is a top priority. We can't make rains come, but we can work with partners and respond to them."

Rodman said the state has drought teams that meet regularly with water users all over the state, both to keep them alert to water conservation issues and encourage them to think long term. The department also continues to do everything it can to address drought issues with federal officials.

Increasing animal agriculture in Kansas also will help Kansas grow, Rodman said. But the state needs to expand its pork and poultry production and processing, instead of relying solely on the growth of the beef industry.

To that end, Rodman advocates repealing "antiquated" state laws against corporate farming that have been ruled unconstitutional in several other states. Generally, those rules limit corporate ownership to family businesses that also must have at least one member living on the land.

Rodman pointed to the dairy industry as a bright spot in western Kansas that is just beginning to grow.

"Kansas can easily be a new dairy frontier, but we have to be on the leading edge of other animal proteins, as well. We have to be careful. We could lose those businesses to the Dakotas if we're not aggressively recruiting them," he said.

While large animal agriculture is being run out of states on both coasts, Rodman said Kansas offers a competitive advantage in open space, low nutrient load and supportive communities and state government.

Rodman also advocated more sorghum production, pointing out that it uses half the water of corn, can be used for animal feed and, like corn, can be used to produce ethanol. He said Kansas already is the largest grain sorghum producer in the nation, growing about 2.3 million acres per year. But in the past, Kansas produced sorghum on more than 8 million acres.

"There's tremendous opportunity ... to convert acres from corn and other things back to sorghum. But we have to raise the income level for farmers to be able to do it," he said.

The farm and ranch show continues today at the Finney County Exhibition Building, 209 Lake Ave. Doors open at 9 a.m. Admission is free.

At 11 a.m., the Kansas Water Forum will address groundwater issues facing farmers and the use of alternative crops that require less water. The forum will feature Tracy Streeter of the Kansas Water Office, along with a panel of guests to discuss options and possible water shortage emergencies for producers in the near future. A question-and-answer session is planned.

Also today, Kansas Geological Survey Director Rex Buchanan will discuss oil and gas industry fracking and its impact on agriculture.

The Mid America Ag Network is host for the event, which will be televised in a special television web-cast each day of the show at KWKSmedia.org and MidAmericaAgNetwork.com.

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