It is evident from the sweeping acres of sorghum, wheat and pastures of cattle, the irrigated circles that can be seen from the sky, and from the scenic overlook at Dodge City where thousands of cattle are fattening:

Kansas’ backbone is agriculture.

Roughly 88 percent of Kansas’ land – more than 46.1 million acres – is devoted to farming and ranching, with more than 61,000 Kansans making a living from the land. And, as the world’s population nears 9 billion people, it’s states like Kansas that play a vital part in feeding the globe.

Kansas’ strong ag backbone predates statehood. It has continued through the perils of drought, insects, prices and more.

Agriculture is a significant part of the past and present, but also the future. According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, agriculture is the largest economic driver in Kansas, valued at more than $62 billion and accounting for 43 percent of the state’s total economy.

Also, reports the KDA, the Kansas ag industry employs nearly 230,000 people – whether directly working on a farm or ranch, or in a meatpacking plant, insurance company or implement dealership. That is about 12 percent of the state’s entire workforce.

Kansas is a leader in wheat, grain sorghum and beef production, according to the KDA. The dairy sector is expanding, and other sectors of animal agriculture are growing as well. And Kansas’ farmers and ranchers are dedicated to raising healthy, safe food with fewer resources.

Meanwhile, ag also provides raw materials for many nonfood products, including fibers, chemicals and fuels.

Here’s a look at how the industry affects the state:

Wheat production

Kansas is a leader in wheat production, but for the past few years it has come in second to North Dakota. The northern state produced more than 370 million bushels of wheat in 2015.

Kansas produced about 322 million bushels last year.

Number of farms

Kansas had 61,773 farms in 2015, down 6 percent from the 2007 census.

Kansas land, in farms, is about 46.1 million acres. But the size of the average Kansas farm grew 6 percent over the five-year period to 747 acres, an increase of about 40 acres.

Older farmers

The report also said Kansas farmers are getting older, with principal operators averaging 58.2 years old in 2012. That compares with an average age of 57.7 five years earlier.

Farm age has increased with every census over the past 30 years. In 1982, the average age of the Kansas farmer was 50 years old.

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Kansas ranks 10th in the nation for hog production, with about 1.8 million hogs.

There are about 1,000 hog farms in Kansas, according to the Kansas Pork Association.

Of these operations, 150 produce over 99 percent of the state’s pigs.

In 2015, Kansas producers sold 3.3 million market hogs, feeder pigs and seed stock with a gross market value of $494.3 million. These hogs produced more than 600 million pounds of pork.

Kansas pork farms consume over 30 million bushels of grain, the KPA reports. Primarily, these operations use Kansas-grown grain sorghum and corn. At January 2016 prices, the pork industry will spend over $90 million on grain sorghum and corn. Also consumed are about 8 million bushels of soybeans through soybean products – or $64 million in soybean meal.

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Yes, there are more cattle in Kansas than people.

From cow/calf producers to those running stockers on pasture and to feedlots and packing plants, Kansas is one of the leaders in the nation for beef production.

Kansas ranked third nationally with 6 million cattle on ranches and in feedyards as of Jan. 1, 2015. That’s a little over twice the state’s human population of more than 2.9 million, reported the Kansas Livestock Association.

Cattle and calves represented 49.1 percent of the 2013 Kansas agricultural cash receipts, according to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service. Cattle generated $7.75 billion in cash receipts.

Kansas ranked seventh nationally in beef cow numbers as of Jan. 1, 2015, with 1.48 million head, according to the KLA. Meanwhile, Kansas ranks No. 2 in the nation for commercial cattle processed, with 6.3 million head.

Kansas ranks third in the value of beef and veal exported at $639 million in 2012, according to the KLA.

Kansas ranked second in fed cattle marketed, with 4.29 million in 2014. That represents more than 19 percent of all cattle fed in the United States. Kansas ranked third in total red-meat production in 2013. Beef represented nearly 5.4 billion pounds of the total.

The meat industry was responsible for as much as $12.9 billion in economic activity in Kansas during 2012, according to the KLA. Also, Kansas ranks third in hides and skins exported from the United States.


Kansas companies that produce, process, distribute and sell meat and poultry products employ as many as 19,502 people and generate an additional 48,070 jobs in supplier and ancillary industries. These include jobs in companies supplying goods and services to manufacturers, distributors and retailers, as well as those depending on sales to workers in the meat industry, reports the KLA.

Milk production

The value of milk produced in Kansas totaled nearly $592 million, adding nearly $131 million to the Kansas economy and 482 jobs in 2013, according to the Kansas Livestock Association.

Kansas has about 310 licensed dairy herds. Kansas dairy farms produced about 341 million gallons of milk.

Meanwhile, the state has five plants that process dairy products.

Dairies create a ripple effect on the rural economies of Kansas. Every dollar spent by a dairy is returned to the local economy three to five times through the purchases of feed, supplies, equipment and services, according to the KLA.