Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske said there is reason to worry. And there is.
Teske was reacting to state Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman's push for lawmakers to repeal corporate farming laws in Kansas, which have worked well for Kansas farmers for 80 years. He didn't mince words after Gov. Sam Brownback, who believes the laws hamper marketing the state to agribusinesses, announced he supported Rodman's proposal.
"Every time a 2,000-cow (corporate) dairy goes in, it takes 20 dairy farmers out of a community," Teske said. "That is not economic development; that is rural depopulation."
Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus was more cautious with his comments after Tuesday's announcement. He said Rodman and lawmakers should pull back on the reins.
"A lot more ... understanding from all parties" is needed, Baccus said
One would expect such talk from two farm leaders who support the necessity of family farms in Kansas. And they are right.
Rodman, who previously was an executive with Cargill, wants lawmakers to repeal laws that restrict corporations' involvement in agriculture. The ag secretary said the polices hinder recruitment of agribusiness and its growth.
Generally, the state's law limits corporate ownership of agricultural land to family farm corporations, whose members must be Kansas residents. There are several exceptions, but that is the gist of a policy that has been on the books since 1931.
"We're doing a lot of recruiting of businesses to come into rural areas, had quite a bit of success so far ..." Brownback said.
So why not leave the law in place? Brownback anecdotally noted that those successfully recruited have mentioned the law. Mentioned. He didn't say it had prevented the businesses from locating in Kansas. There is no evidence to support the governor's assertions. Or Rodman's, for that matter.
More pointedly, small Kansas farm operations are important to the state for the jobs and products they produce. They literally feed Kansans and figuratively "feed" multiple businesses and their workers, such as grain elevators.
Small Kansas farmers ought to expect every protection the state can provide. And for 80 years, Kansas has done just that - protected small farmers. There is no legitimate reason to change the game plan now.
By Mary Rintoul/Hutchinson News editorial board