Each sector in Kansas’ thriving agriculture industry is focused on expansion and improvement, thanks in large part to a recent effort coordinated by the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
The project, called the Kansas Agricultural Growth Strategy, began in August 2015 when KDA hosted a meeting of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors. Following a discussion about growing the state’s economy, which relies heavily on agriculture, KDA assembled an ag growth team that traveled the state to hold more than 250 one-on-one meetings with ag industry leaders from various sectors.
“We wanted to know what was working well and what wasn’t, or what was preventing their sector from growing, so the industry could focus on making growth a priority,” says Heather Lansdowne, communications director for the KDA.
Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth
Those meetings culminated in the first Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth, which was held in August 2016 in Manhattan, and drew nearly 400 leaders representing an assortment of agricultural interests from across the state.
The free-to-attend Summit included interactive workshops that identified the challenges and opportunities within individual sectors, and a panel discussion brought attention to the importance of talent and workforce in agriculture. In addition, attendees discussed issues like barriers to entry, consumer awareness and community acceptance of agriculture, global opportunities, transportation and logistics, and water and natural resources.
“The 2016 Summit was the first time all of the Kansas agriculture sectors got together in one place and talked about the issues affecting each of them,” Lansdowne says. “It was a hands-on event, and it allowed the growth team to determine the specific problems facing the ag industry, sector by sector.”
Based on the information gleaned at the Summit and from the interviews, KDA compiled and summarized industry feedback into desired growth outcomes for 19 sectors of the industry. The outcomes document can be viewed online at agriculture.ks.gov/growag, along with documents providing expanded background information for each of the 19 agricultural sectors.
The first Summit was so successful, the KDA has made it a yearly event, and the second-annual Summit took place in August 2017. “The Summit has helped people realize that we’re all [in the Kansas agriculture industry] fighting similar challenges, and if we work together, we can accomplish far more than is possible individually,” Lansdowne says.’
Cargill Invests in Kansas
Committed to growing Kansas’ beef sector is Cargill Inc.’s protein group, which has made significant investments in the state recently.
The company’s North America protein business, based in Wichita, is building a $60 million headquarters facility in the city’s Old Town. It’s scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018 and will bring new jobs and avenues for growth. This investment ensures Wichita remains vital in the operations of the largest privately held company in the U.S., and it will benefit both the community and the state for many years to come.
“Our Wichita headquarters will eventually house approximately 950 employees,” says Brian Sikes, Cargill Protein president. “This is a great place for us to grow, and Wichita’s reasonable cost of living and high quality of life help us attract and retain talent.”
In 2011, Cargill Protein opened a $15 million state-of-the-art innovation center in Wichita, where food science, research and development, culinary, and other expertise comes together to meet the needs of retail, foodservice and food manufacturing customers around the world.
Additionally, Cargill Protein opened a new $50 million distribution center at its Dodge City beef processing facility in 2016 – the company’s largest beef processing plant – which currently employs about 2,500 people.
Cargill is growing its other businesses in Kansas and recently invested $60 million into its soybean processing plant in Wichita. Cargill also operates a salt mine in Hutchinson as well as grain elevators, crop input and animal feed facilities across the state. In addition, the company has partnered with ConAgra to establish Ardent Mills, a grain milling company with locations in both Newton and Wichita.
“There is a greater awareness and appreciation for telling Kansas’ ag story, and I think a lot of that is due to the Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth,” Sikes says. “These Summits help people work together who ordinarily might not, which is leading to more discussions and helping to grow the agriculture industry – and that’s exactly what we all want to see.”