Ag Secretary identifies challenges facing Kansas producers

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Kansas Agriculture Secretary Adrian Polanske told a gathering of local producers and agri-businessmen Wednesday that the state’s agricultural economy faces both opportunities and challenges.

Speaking at the annual agriculture information meeting sponsored in Marion by the Jerry Cady Agency and Central National Bank, Polanske compared the ag economy to the ever-popular crescent wrench.

He said the Crescent company, whose name is synonymous with the tool, is now out of business even though it once dominated the market-but the key to the tool’s continuing popularity is its ability to adjust to the needs of the moment.

“One of the points I try to make with this is that no matter how successful we’ve been in the past, there’s no guarantee we’ll be successful into the future,” Polanske said.

“The main reason I carry it around is that it is adjustable. That is extraordinarily important as we see change move at a more rapid pace in the world than it ever has before,” he said.

“In my view we will never see agriculture like it was yesterday, much less 20 or 30 years ago.”

Polanske cited new and growing opportunities for grain farmers in the production of bio-diesel and ethanol from soybeans and corn, respectively, as well as the rise of organic agriculture and value-added marketing through the growth of genetically engineered crop varieties.

On the challenge side, he mentioned the emerging identification system in the beef market that will enable officials to quickly track and deal with animals that are discovered to have diseases, such as hoof-and-mouth disease, that could be detrimental to the larger beef market.

He said the current debate is not whether the program is needed, but whether it should be publicly or privately based.

“We’ve got to get moving on it or else we could have an economic loss on our hands,” he said.

Polanske said beef prices haven’t been friendly to producers lately partly because herds are growing in number and producers are having trouble winning back the Asian market after some disease scares in recent months.

Polanske also addressed the upcoming federal farm bill that is now in the information-gathering stage. Development and passage of the bill is targeted for 2007.

He said it is important for producers and rural communities that the next farm bill maintain a 35 percent too 40 percent “safety net” for producers through subsidy programs.

He said to drastically reduce that safety net would throw the rural economy back into the difficulties it faced during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

Polankse challenged those who think international agreements through the World Trade Organization are driving the movement to reduce subsidies.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that we have to reduce the safety net because of trade negotiation issues,” he said. “We just need to change how the farm bill operates.”

Polanske also said the growing national deficit is not a good reason either to reduce farm subsidies, even though it will adversely affect interest rates for producers. He added that tax breaks for special interests should not be made at the expense of agricultural producers.

“I’m not willing to sacrifice our future so someone else can have a tax cut,” Polanske said.

He said everyone will need to make some sacrifices, not just producers, to get the deficit under control.

In addition to Polanske’s address, the event included presentations by: Mike Woolverton and Art Barnaby, a Kansas State University ag economists; Mel Thompson, Sen. Pat Roberts ag assistant; and Steve Howe, from Rep. Jerry Moran’s office.

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