Ag secretary says state aims to protect food supply

Kansas agriculture is in a time of rapid change and challenges as it tries to protect its food-production capacity.

Kansas Secretary of Agri?culture John Svaty, speaking to producers and others interested in agriculture March 3, at the Marion City Building, said he had to ?hit the ground running? to keep up with the complexities in a time of budget depletions.

The gathering was sponsored by Central National Bank and Jerry Cady Agency Farmers Union Insurance, Marion.

Despite having served as a representative from the 108th legislative district and a family farmer himself, Svaty said he had to learn more regulatory processes and services than he knew existed when the governor appointed him to the office in January.

Among the things Svaty said are critical include:

? keeping up with new inspections of grain storage on the ground with the state transitioning more to growing soybeans and corn;

? taking over restaurant inspection from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment;

? protecting crop genetic rights developed by Kansas State University at taxpayer expense in an era when private corporations are set to safeguard their developments of new hybrid wheat;

? dealing with these things when Kansas is losing $258 million from the state budget in the harsh economy.

?There is a silver lining to all of this,? Svaty said. ?Agriculture is still the brightest thing going for Kansas. It?s the bedrock of our communities, and it?s responsible for the abundance of jobs we have.?

Even in terms of manufacturing jobs outside agriculture, Svaty predicted much of the economic recovery will come to Kansas in terms of industries related to farm-land use.

With unemployment at 9 to 11 percent, Svaty expects a transition of persons who once worked in the aircraft industry moving to jobs such as making wind turbines and parts. He said such jobs will outpace the aircraft industry perhaps as long as the next 30 to 40 years.

Svaty and his family still farm, maintaining a diversified operation in Ellsworth including wheat, milo, soybeans, corn, sunflowers, cow-calf herd and sheep.

Svaty said he feels he can relate closely to the needs and problems of farmers in this area.

Svaty said his department will have to watch ?carefully and closely? how the transition to use of hybrid grain varieties works, making efforts to maintain profitability for farmers while protecting K-State research.

He said K-State wheat genetics could ?conservatively be worth? $1 billion, with companies willing to pay $45 million for a single germ plasm.

Svaty said Marion County has a strong advocate in Hillsboro farmer Paul Penner, who is president of Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.

He also said Kansas will need additional grain-storage capacity for at least the next five to 10 years. Most on-the-ground storage had been approved to Jan. 31, and most of it has been extended to March 31, he said.

Svaty expects most of it will have to be extended again, due to the large record harvest, changes in grains and the pace of shipment from elevators.

Svaty said many Kansas elevators are slowed in grain shipping because they no longer have rail service. For instance, Mid-Kansas Cooperative, with 57 elevators, only has truck service.

With the economic pressure to lay off people, Svaty said laying off an agriculture department staff person creates additional problems because it may further exasperate the economic situation.

For instance, he said, if a meat inspector can?t work, the meat plant where he inspects can?t slaughter animals until he comes back.

Ten persons may have to be furloughed from some work hours to replace the cost of laying one employee off entirely, Svaty said, which can delay companies throughout the economy.

?We especially need to turn around inspections as quickly as possible for dairy operations,? he said.

Svaty said his department also is responsible for weights and measures throughout the state, checking everything from truck scales to grocer scales.

Responsibilities also are growing for imported foods, he said. For instance, an Asian food provider is required to spray shrimp with water before packaging, but the KDA must check to see that the weight of the shrimp was determined before spraying instead of allowing the added weight of the water for consumers to pay for afterwards.

Svaty said farmers who own irrigation rights need to contact the KDA Water Resources Division to see if they should get a conservation permit for their water rights. He said under former rules, a producer had to pump water at least once every five years to keep rights.

Svaty said the policy wasted water because farmers sometimes pumped water when they really didn?t need it just to retain rights. Under the conservation permit, they can keep rights but not pump until it really is needed.

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