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Mark Vierthaler: Be thankful for Kansas agriculture’s economic power

  • Published Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, at 12 a.m.

In 2008, the financial crisis that swept through the country left a tidal wave of financial stress.

Markets began to drop and unemployment rates began to skyrocket.

But some pockets of the country escaped the worst of the recession — places such as Ford County.

While everyone else was scrambling to find ways to avoid another Great Depression, Ford County managed to boast high employment numbers as well as strong returns on investments. Those investments were largely based on, and bolstered by, agricultural operations.

As we sit down at our plates today to revel in all that our country has to offer us, it behooves us to take the time to look back on where all these products come from.

A large part of them come from Kansas.

And while we’re busy being thankful that there are people who are dedicated to feeding the nation and the world, we should also be thankful that that same industry is what has largely buoyed Kansas’ economy during these rough years.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kansas currently ranks sixth in farm product exports, valued at almost $6 billion in 2008 and $5 billion in 2010.

At 28.2 million acres, Kansas has the second-most cropland of any state, and it leads the country in grain sorghum production and wheat flour milling capacity.

We’re second in wheat flour milled, wheat production, and number of cattle and calves on farm. We’re third in cattle slaughtered and red meat production by commercial slaughter plants.

And with all that comes a need for labor.

According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of unemployed Kansans stayed below 7.6 percent between January 2002 and September 2012. During that same period nationwide, unemployment pushed towards 10 percent and even now has dropped to only 7.9 percent, according to the most recent figures available.

Why? Well, agriculture played a large role in helping keep jobs in the state.

Author and speaker Brenda Schoepp once said, “My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher. But every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.”

This still rings true.

“Regardless of the economic climate in the United States, people still have to eat,” said Servi-Tech southwest territory manager Doug Cossey. “Agriculture in the Midwest provides the bulk of the food that is served at America’s dinner tables.”

Businesses in Ford County cater to the agricultural sector because of the influence of agriculture in the area, Cossey said, and this has led to many ag-related businesses, including Servi-Tech, growing in a time of overall economic recession.

Pete Kruse, Servi-Tech director of operations, credits agriculture for being a stabilizing factor for the larger economy because so many of those who work in ag-related fields are “conservative and forward thinking when it comes to economic issues, and know that agricultural policies and commodity prices fluctuate cyclically.”

So as you sit down across from your family and friends, be thankful that you live in a state that has been largely protected from the poor economy by the power of agriculture.

Mark Vierthaler is the director of communications for Servi-Tech Inc., the nation’s largest agronomic firm with agronomists in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa. Contact him at markv@servi-techinc.com

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