Seward County Community College Agriculture Program

LIBERAL - Agriculture is the backbone of the Kansas economy, but agriculture producers are currently facing extremely poor economic conditions. Recently, Kansas State University Research and Extension (KSRE) Southwest Area Economist, Monte Vandeveer, was a guest presenter at Seward County Community College. Vandeveer used Kansas Farm Management Association data to show that in 2015, farmers in the KFMA averaged about $5000. net profit. Even more significant was that around 50 % of the KFMA farms had negative net profit. Vandeveer commented that 2016 data would likely be similar and 2017 might be the worse year yet in this agriculture downturn.

Agriculture producers know there are ups and downs in profitability. Kansas farmers can take hope in the oft used economic phase “one of the best cures for low prices, is low prices.” However, one of the consequences of improving prices will likely be more consolidation of farms. Those able to better withstand poor economic times survive, but others likely will be forced to stop farming.

Former Kansas Speaker of the House, Melvin Neufeld, likes to comment that Southwest Kansas farmers are successful because they “innovate and adapt.” Looking back at history some of those adaptations have included: 1) dairy industry, 2) swine industry, 3) feedlot industry, 4) ground water irrigation. Is it possible another innovation could start an industry of fruits and vegetables?

Agriculture producers of commodity crops are referred to as “price takers.” Vegetable and fruit growers, depending on how close they market to end users, can be “price makers.” Is Southwest Kansas an area that has potential to grow vegetables and fruits? The answer is a resounding “yes.” For example, KSRE published a research paper in the1960’s that concluded SW Kansas has the potential to be a competitor with Arizona and California in the cantaloupe market sector across the United States.

In 2013 while visiting Garden City, former KSRE Horticulture Specialist Alan Stevens mentioned that Colorado is decreasing their vegetable production because of water issues, mostly in regard to supplying water to the Denver area. Because of that fact, Stevens mentioned that SW Kansas should replace Colorado vegetable acres and be able to supply their established market system.

The Kansas Legislature in 2014 created a Governor’s Task Force on Local Foods. This group has met for the past two years and was formed to make recommendations to the Kansas Legislature on how to increase the production of local foods. SCCC Ag Instructor, David Coltrain is one of the seven members of this task force.

To inform producers about possibilities for growing vegetables and fruits in SW Kansas, SCCC Agriculture Program is hosting the 3rd annual Specialty Crops: Production, Marketing, Management meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7 in Liberal. This meeting will have information for beginning and experienced specialty crops growers as well as those thinking about growing specialty crops.

Sessions and speakers include Cary Rivard, KSRE Vegetable and Fruit Specialist, who will present on “What Crops Could Work” and “Diversifying High Tunnel Production.” Three Kansas growers will talk about their operations of greenhouse hydroponic vegetables, high tunnels, wholesale production and direct marketing techniques. Brian Withrow of Medicine Lodge will present on Sustainable Beekeeping. David Coltrain, SCCC Agriculture Instructor, will describe “What’s Happening at SCCC.” The meeting will conclude with a tour of the SCCC facilities that includes greenhouses, high tunnels, garden areas and incubator plots.

For more information about the educational meeting that is sponsored by local extension offices, please contact David Coltrain at david.coltrain@sccc.edu or 620-417-1354 or Donna Apsley, Specialty Crops Incubator Plots Coordinator, at 620-417-1368. A brochure for the meeting can be found at www.facebook.com/scccatsagriculture.

Will SW Kansas producers “innovate and adapt” in regard to growing vegetables and fruits? Only time will answer that question. Similar to dairy farms, swine operations and feedlots, only a limited number of farmers will be required to produce enough vegetable and fruit acres to make Kansas a top ten state in vegetables like Colorado has been. The 2012 Ag Census showed Colorado with 142,539 acres of vegetables while Kansas had 7118 acres. Another economic phase is “early adapters.” Which Kansas producers will be known as early adapters in vegetable and fruit production?

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