Western Kansas Agriculture Feeds the World

Agriculture is an anchor of the western Kansas economy.

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An anchor of the western Kansas economy and a source for a number of its business innovations is its robust agriculture and value-added food industry, which includes major dairy, cattle and crop production, including wheat, corn, soybeans and sorghum grain. Kansas ranked third nationally with 6.1 million cattle on ranches and in feed yards as of January 2012. Kansas cattle generated $7.64 billion in cash receipts in 2011. “It's safe to say we're No. 1 or 2 in sorghum or wheat within a given year and No. 2 or 3 in cattle, our key agriculture resources,” says John Greathouse, chairman of the department of agriculture at Fort Hays State University. Major Food Production Western Kansas has a number of major meat production operations, including Tyson in Garden City and National Beef in Liberal. About 70 percent of the milk produced in the state comes from two dozen dairies in the western third. One of the largest operations is McCarty Family Farms, which milks 7,000 cows daily at its three dairies. Pennsylvanians turned Kansans, the McCartys – Tom, Judy and their four sons – moved to Rexford in Thomas County in the late 1990s. “Northeast Pennsylvania was by no means conducive to larger scale dairies,” Tom McCarty says. “And if you can't create a good level of efficiency, you're losing.” The McCarty family built a processing plant in 2011 for the ultimate win-win scenario of production and sustainability. It’s the only plant of its kind in North America. Evaporated water from the processing facility is used on the farm for cows and crops. The pasteurized condensed cream and skim milk are shipped to Dannon County in Fort Worth, Texas, to be made into yogurt, under a multiyear contract. Influence of Ag Industry in Western Kansas The importance of the value-added agriculture industry in western Kansas extends to major employers connected to the industry, such as CrustBuster/Speed King, a farm machinery manufacturer in Dodge City, and Plains Cotton Corp., which operates a 330,000-square-foot storage warehouse in Liberal. Education plays a role in the industry too. Agriculture has been a significant part of Fort Hays State University since its founding in 1902. In the past three years student enrollment has increased as students pursue a bachelor of science degree in one of five disciplines, one of which is agricultural business. Greathouse says the business emphasis is on profit and loss, as well as science and technology. “We have advanced technology available to us to enhance production efficiencies within our agriculture entities,” he says. “[We are] not only looking at farming and ranching but the application of technology to improve the end product to consumers.” Business coursework is integrated within FHSU’s agriculture curricula. “It's critical we do that,” says Greathouse. Agriculture has historically been known as a wholesale business. That’s changing, as farmers and ranchers adapt to a retail model, says Jeff Hofaker, director of Phillips County Economic Development. “It's not just a bulk product, but more of a niche retail business,” he says. Kurt and Andi Dale, owners of Dale Family Farms, have undergone the bulk-to-niche paradigm shift in the past eight years. “He is not a cattleman, he’s a grass farmer,” Andi Dale says of her husband, whose family has farmed for more than a century in Comanche County. The Dales raise and sell grass-fed beef and pork, and pastured poultry: free-range chickens and turkeys. The couple is thinking of adding goats and rabbits to their offerings. “For years we had the mindset that we had to get bigger to survive,” she says. The Dales took a different approach and instead of getting bigger, they decided to “get smarter and look for least-cost solutions.” By switching to direct selling, the Dales became profit-oriented instead of production-driven. Their intent is to grow operations on a cash basis instead of incurring debt. Merging business skills with a healthy respect for Mother Nature will allow agriculture to continue to be the backbone of the western Kansas economy. Says Andi Dale, “We must take care of the resources we have – earth and pastures – or we won’t be able to raise anything.”


Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years. He was previously an editor for a small-town newspaper for ... more

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Fri, 10/27/2017 - 19:55