Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett returned to Hays on Friday to hear and talk about agricultural issues.
The Topeka physician spoke with about a half dozen area residents at Gella’s Diner, 117 E. 11th, where approximately a month ago he made a stop on his state tour announcing his candidacy for the GOP nomination.
Barnett was the party’s nominee in 2006 against Kathleen Sebelius and also served as a state senator from 2001 to 2010.
Growing the state’s economy will be the main challenge for the next governor of Kansas, Barnett said.
“It’s the only way we’re going to get out of the hole we’re in,” he said.
But correcting the state’s financial problems will not be a job that can be handled by one governor in one term, he said. He expects it will take about 10 years for Kansas to return to a strong economy.
Agriculture will be an important part of that recovery, he said.
“It’s the core of our state, it’s the root of our economy. It actually represents the personality of Kansas as well,” he said.
Workforce and workforce development, infrastructure, education and health care are all other issues that will contribute to growing the economy, he said.
Barnett turned to those in attendance to speak about the ag issues they believed the state needs to address.
Aaron White, director of the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development, spoke about the need to make sure farmers and rural elevators can easily access markets. He cited the loss over the last several decades of railroads in rural areas, and suggested Kansas needs to temporarily open weight limits for trucks during harvest, as other states do.
“It helps the farmers get it out their fields faster, it helps the country elevators get it out of their elevators faster,” he said.
On the producer side, White said, there is a lot of opportunity here for alternative crops like pinto beans and field peas, but, again, access to markets is an issue.
Developing industries that use crop residue like wheat straw to manufacture products would drive economic development, he said.
“We don’t see a lot of push for that at the state level,” he said.
Mike Morley, manager of corporate communications for Midwest Energy, noted sustainability of the aquifer is a concern to many of the cooperative’s customers.
Midwest Energy serves the Sheridan 6 Local Enhanced Management Area in Sheridan County, where Gov. Sam Brownback and other state officials recently touted the farmers’ voluntary cutbacks in irrigation as evidence sustainable use of the Ogallala Aquifer is possible.
“It’s kind of a harbinger of what could be done in other parts of the state. That’s our hope is that will catch on in other districts,” Morley said.
“It’s a huge issue,” Barnett said, “not just here but southwest Kansas as well. We’ve talked with some people who feel like they’re reaching sustainability but yet more needs to be done.”
Other issues addressed in the hour-long meeting included ensuring farming and ag careers attract young people and immigration as part of the workforce. Talk also turned away from agriculture to health care and taxes.
Overall, Barnett said, the state will not recover from its financial problems unless all Kansans work together.
“That also means urban and rural divides need to be crossed. We need to bring urban and rural Kansas together with one agenda that works for the state,” he said.