Good Luck

August 23rd, 2019

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


Monday, Kansas Commerce Secretary David Toland came to Liberal to participate in a bus tour organized by State Representative Shannon Francis, and while the intent was to show the secretary some of the business activities happening in our area, it was a nice reminder even to us who live here just what runs our local economy.

Spoiler alert — it’s agriculture.

While taking a bus tour to see some of our newest community additions including $127 million in new schools, a state-of-the-art regional health care facility at Southwest Medical Center, and some new projects to address housing, the majority of the tour focused on what is happening in our major industry of agriculture.

From National Beef to cotton to ethanol and more, agriculture has a $12 billion economic impact in Southwest Kansas. More than $2.3 billion of that is in Seward County alone.

The effect of agriculture in Seward County effect 5,307 jobs.

During the bus tour, leaders from these various companies shared with Secretary Toland the successes as well as the challenges that prevent Seward County form being an even stronger economic contributor for the State of Kansas.

While most of the time we focus on our political differences, this was a time where members of a Democratic administration and a conservative community saw eye to eye on what was happening and what needs to happen to support one another for future growth.

Too often we focus on the hot button issues that are designed to divide us.

But Monday we heard a commerce secretary ask how his department could better serve rural Kansas, and he wanted to know if there were regulations that were causing issues that his department could work with legislators to find solutions.

When it came to stimulating the Kansas economy, there were no partisans on that bus. Everyone wanted to see how we could work together to make Seward County and Kansas better together.

Even when concerns about the tariffs with China were discussed, Secretary Toland did not take the obvious opportunity to take a shot at the Trump Administration despite the fact that agriculture has been adversely affected by the recent trade war.

His subtle comment was, “I hear that a lot.” I can respect the restraint.

Despite the current tariff battle, some of our local producers are doing what pioneers on the prairie always do — buck the odds and find a path forward.

National Beef continues to be a leader in beef production, and they also continually invest in enhancement at their facility. National Beef representative Dean Aragon shared how much payroll the company provides for the local community each payroll, and it is in the millions. They bring cattle from Kansas, Texas, Iowa and almost anywhere else they can get them to reach the daily 6,000 head capacity of the plant.

Cotton is becoming a cash crop in Seward County as well as the southern half of Kansas.

One farmer shared how he split acreage between corn and cotton, used a dramatically less amount of water on the cotton and his profit on the cotton was much higher than the corn.

Local farmer and businessman Nick Hatcher said, “I predict that cotton will surpass wheat in a  few years.”

In touring one of the cotton warehouses just outside the Liberal city limits, warehouse manager Jim Pittman shared how they house 250,000 bales of cotton at the warehouse, but at their other locations they top 1 million bales.

Originally, the local warehouse was supposed to house all the production in Kansas, but the growth of the industry outpaced the warehouse.

As the full size Continental bus drove through the warehouse, which semed to stretch on for a half mile or more, the building was full of bales of cotton, similar to how a silo would hold grain. It was impressive to say the least, and it is happening in Seward County.

We drove by Conestoga Energy and listen to Tom Willis discuss how they have been able to capture all three components of the grain and use them all, from the alcohol, the feed and even the carbon dioxide which now is piped to a facility that uses it to pump it into the ground and force fossil fuels to the surface. Conestoga shared how they produce millions of gallons of ethanol while supporting local grain producers by buying their crops.

After a local feedlot abruptly closed a few years ago, another ag business came in and started raising milk cows who are then shipped to Wisconsin dairies. They house more than 24,000 heifers who are preparing to become milking cows, and when a shipment of new calves come in, a shipment of adult cows are exported. 

The reason they use Southwest Kansas to raise the cows, according to the lot manager, is the “excellent climate.”

Throughout Seward County there are great things happening in the field of agriculture, and yet there are more opportunities.

By establishing a relationship with Commerce Secretary Toland, Seward County businesses are creating the links needed to help foster this economic engine.

As evidenced by the ethanol plant, adding value to the items grown here helps elevate the local economy with good paying jobs and a strong economic base to the products we already produce.

With Seward County Community College adapting to prepare the workforce with the academic and technical options (which amy include a national designation for the technical options in the near future), with readily available health care at Southwest Medical Center, and the availability of land, natural resources and the ability to recruit a workforce, we have the potential for a bright future.

I was encouraged by the dedication of our local public leaders and business leaders who have come together in a cooperative way to work together for the greater good of the community.

Whether it be addressing housing or expanding the economy, we have the people, property and positive outlook to move to an even brighter future.

There is no question that agriculture is our future, and the better it is, the better for all of us.

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