Commentary: Law change provides rural opportunity

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For farm and ranch families across Kansas, adding flexibility to our agribusiness laws represents a unique opportunity to access new markets, to diversify operations and to attempt a new strategy to invigorate rural communities and offer young people a rural alternative.

Our current law has restricted this state’s ability to attract and capitalize on the potential in Kansas, keep families on the farm and rural communities alive and well. For many years we’ve simply watched as farm consolidation occurred and rural communities ceased to exist.

While no single concept is likely to address all of the issues of out‐migration or depopulation, removing the real or perceived hurdles to bringing new business ventures to Kansas will encourage growth and industry and in turn attract jobs and residents to rural communities.

Revising restrictive laws is one step in the right direction to diversify economies, improve markets and give a brighter future to families who want to continue to live and thrive in rural Kansas.

Kansas is now one of just nine states in the country that prohibit or restrict certain farms from doing business in the state. Courts have struck down these restrictions in three of those states. Current family owned farms in Kansas could be in violation of our existing law.

Agribusiness, swine, dairy and poultry producers have approached Kansas about the possibility of locating here. Updating state law to reflect modern-day business structure reality will allow efficient, environmentally sound corporate citizens to revitalize many of our rural communities.

A crucial part of this story remains the privately held farms in Kansas. When comparing land values from 15 states, both with and without restrictions, there was no correlation between land values and restrictions on business structures.

Some say a change in law will hurt small farms. Research shows the opposite is true. Those states without restrictions experienced a growth of 5.24 percent in small farms compared to .35 percent in Kansas.

For farmers and ranchers of all sizes, increasing the flexibility of our laws represents a unique opportunity to access new markets, to diversify operations and to attempt a new strategy to invigorate rural communities and offer young people a rural alternative.

Whether in business as a sole proprietorship, an LLC or any other entity structure, farmers and ranchers look at real numbers and real value, not emotional, unsubstantiated arguments. It’s also why they support existing requirements for environmental measures that ensure they leave the land better than when they began caring for it.

In today’s global economy Kansas will continue to struggle if we fail to embrace free and open markets. This is a concept farmers and ranchers have long supported.

Rural Kansans deserve the opportunity to open our state to new development by removing barriers for entering, or in some cases remaining in business, in Kansas. Changing the law will allow multi‐generational family operations to continue to work in Kansas instead of imposing a system in which future generations may be ineligible to own or operate the farm or ranch.

It’s time we rethink the status quo and focus all our energy on growing all parts of the state to ensure vibrant farms, ranches, schools, faith communities and food systems in both rural and urban areas of our state.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.  

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John George    
Uniontown, Kansas  |  December, 12, 2013 at 10:18 AM

As a lifelong Kansas resident, agricultural producer, and agricultural engineer; I couldn't agree with you more. As I have spent the last forty years providing technical services as an agricultural engineer seeking to help producers deal with the burdens and hurdles presented by bureaucracy at all levels, it is really frustrating to find so many statutes and bureaucratic edicts that lack merit anywhere near their cost to society and the economy. You have focused your comments on one. A couple of others that need to be addressed include the inordinately large separation distances embedded in our environmental rules applying to agriculture which made sense fifty years ago when the expansion of the large beef feedlots was focused in sparsely populated Western Kansas. As agriculture cultural practices, efficiency and scale have evolved over the decades, Kansas' archaic separation distance rules have achieved splitting the state into the Western section that can functionally permit viable scale livestock facilities, and the Central and Eastern portions of the State that cannot due to population density. Another recent occurrence has been the emergence of a trend for large tax advantaged "non-profit" entities to utilize their privileged organizational status and a contrued marketing monopoly in agriculture to compete unfairly with critical pioneering agri-businesses. The Kansas Farm Bureau and other entities of influence could help highlight these issues to the administration and legislature to eliminate also these major negatives to economic sustainance and growth in Kansas.

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