Kent Winter: Does mayor think farmers aren’t sophisticated?

04/29/2013 5:57 PM

04/29/2013 5:57 PM

It has always been a privilege to live near and do business in the city of Wichita. As the county’s farm and ranch advocacy organization, the Sedgwick County Farm Bureau Agricultural Association appreciates its relationship with city leaders, business owners, agribusiness companies and, frankly, those who consume food every day.

Farm Bureau members are people who grow food in the fields and pastures that surround the state’s largest city. We take great pride in our ability to plant, grow and harvest a crop and to raise and feed livestock.

So it really stings to hear criticism of people who farm and ranch as a career. Negative comments about production agriculture, an industry Wichitans rely upon, are not what we expect from the leader of Wichita.

But on April 24, in connection with the groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer made the following statement: “We’re very sophisticated and maybe we’re not the rural, farming industry, and things of that nature.… We’re more sophisticated. We are the Air Capital of the World.”

This statement struck a chord with my fellow farmers and ranchers on the Sedgwick County Farm Bureau board. Did the mayor mean that farmers are not sophisticated people? Is he embarrassed about the way Wichita is portrayed as a major player in production agriculture and agribusiness?

No one can dispute that Wichita is the Air Capital. But what purpose was served by the chief spokesman for the city slamming production agriculture and the thriving agribusiness industry based here? Informed, sophisticated people do not speak in this manner, nor do they denigrate the food-producing and -processing professions that are responsible for what is placed on the nation’s dinner tables.

Each farmer in this country now feeds 155 people, thanks to an extremely sophisticated array of technology, modern equipment and infrastructure that has been yoked together to yield a plentiful supply of food. The average American household spends 10 percent of disposable income on food, while many other countries spend double or triple that figure. Why not mention food production and processing in the same sentence with aviation? What is there to be ashamed of?

The mayor should keep in mind that many farmers in south-central Kansas or their spouses are also employed within his city limits and spend considerable amounts of money on products, repairs, supplies, groceries and entertainment in Wichita. Negative comments can only encourage farmers and ranchers to spend their dollars elsewhere. I’m sure the cities of Kingman, Newton and Hutchinson would value the extra money we could bring to their economies.

Farmers and ranchers are more sophisticated and educated than we let on. My daily work includes engineering, manufacturing, hedges and futures, insurance consideration, and agronomics on top of trying to being a “good farmer.” We are part of an American ideal and realize not everyone earns a living on the farm like we do. But we are thankful for it.

In the spirit of good relations and mutual cooperation, we would respectfully invite the mayor to visit a local farming operation to experience firsthand the high level of sophistication involved with local food production. A new perspective can help bridge the gap of misinformation and ensure sophisticated conversation in the future.

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