TOPEKA — Kansas needs to invest hundreds of millions of dollars more in its beef, dairy and pork industries in order to give the state a larger share of U.S. animal agriculture production, Gov. Sam Brownback said.
"I just want to see us put that on steroids and grow it," Brownback said this week during an economic development summit in Garden City.
Brownback, a Republican, also said that reforming the state's regulatory and legal framework for the agriculture industry would attract new investment to Kansas.
Brownback said the recent expansion of dairy farms in western Kansas could be replicated by the redevelopment of poultry production in the state.
"We can grow the animal agriculture industry in this state," Brownback said. "We can compete against anybody in the world with what we do."
But he said the state had to take a firm position on preservation of the Ogallala Aquifer, a key underground source for water in western Kansas.
"It's probably the main issue we have facing animal agriculture," he said.
Dale Rodman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said the state's livestock producers have to organize around marketing opportunities to supply more meat to countries with a rising standard of living.
"Government can't do it all," he said.
The meeting also included an open microphone period, when people raised questions about the state's capacity to issue driver's licenses to immigrant workers who remained in Kansas with their families many years after their visas had expired. Because they are illegal immigrants, they can't obtain a license to drive on the state's highways.
In some areas of the state with low unemployment, including southwest Kansas, there is a shortage of truck drivers for moving grain and livestock to market.
Karin Brownlee, secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, said steps were taken to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses because of concerns about border security.
There is no movement at the state level to issue a special license to illegal immigrants, she said.
"If we would do something like that, it would have to pass muster with Homeland Security," Brownlee said.