Gov. Brownback’s lasting legacy will be in agriculture

Source: By Bill Spiegel, High Plains Journal • Posted: Wednesday, September 6, 2017

There is a lot to like about agriculture in the state of Kansas right now. Much of that was on display at the Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth, held Aug. 24, in Manhattan.

This was the second year for the Summit, which is intended for agriculturists to gather, exchange ideas and brainstorm ways to further the state’s ag industry. More than 400 attended.

“We’re an ag state. What we do for ag is good for the state of Kansas,” said Gov. Sam Brownback, who has been nominated by the President Donald Trump’s administration to be the ambassador for international religious freedom. In a swansong of sorts to a friendly crowd, he spoke eloquently, passionately and humorously about Kansas’ agriculture industry during his address.

“I was out at Leoti and saw 1 million bushel piles of corn, and the fattest pigeons I’ve ever seen,” he remarked when talking about the state’s ability to produce grain.

In 1974, Gov. Brownback was Kansas FFA president. The state was home to no ethanol plants (unless there were a few farm stills, he pointed out). Now, 38 percent of our crop goes to ethanol. “What if we hadn’t worked as an industry to expand that industry?” he said. “What would the price of corn be now?”

East Kansas Agri-Energy, an ethanol plant in Garnett, Kansas, is bringing the first corn oil diesel biorefinery online, and will begin exporting corn oil diesel to other states.

Meanwhile, in the last few years, Kansas has worked to build its status as a hub for agriculture excellence. The American Royal will soon break ground on its new $160 million home in Kansas City, Kansas, near where the Dairy Farmers of America has already moved. “We will build an agricultural technology and genetics complex there,” he confirmed. “There is no reason we can’t be the center of it all. Here. In Kansas.”

At the heart of it all is the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan. “There’s no concrete left in Kansas because it’s being hauled there,” he quipped. The nearly $750 million project is due to open in 2022, and will be the center of research for many biological threats to humans, animals and foreign animal diseases.

Legacy in water conservation

Brownback will be remembered for his leadership in water preservation. His administration has worked diligently to slow the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, and it is beginning to pay off.

Farmers and landowners in Local Enhanced Water Management Agencies, or LEMAs, in two areas of the state have volunteered to reduce the amount of irrigation water they use in those areas. Early results show that in those areas, water supplies are much more stable.

“We can do something that nobody has dreamed about for a long time: sustainable use of the Ogallala Aquifer. We can do this,” he said emphatically.

“What’s happening here is that people need to agree to a common effort,” he added. “If everyone does it, everyone benefits. It’s a fabulous thing.”

He compared the state’s growing wine industry to the vision of Kansas ag leaders. For a vine to produce good grapes, it has to be stressed. The vine thinks it’s going to die, so it puts all its energy into the fruit. Visionary people, he said, have devoted resources, capital and innovation to ensure the sustainability of a strong Kansas agriculture for years to come.

“What a good lesson, when we think about what to pass onto the next generation,” he said.

Brownback, the state’s 46th governor, also has served the state as a secretary of agriculture, and as a U.S. representative and senator. To put it mildly, many of his actions as governor were unpopular. But his contributions to agriculture will strengthen his legacy. He is quick to credit his fellow Kansans.

“It’s a good land,” he said. “But it doesn’t work without good people.”