As technologic, economic, and environmental situations continue to change, farming and ranching operations must continue to adapt. Employment in Farming and Ranching has been declining for decades. The number of farm and ranch operators has also declined. The amount of land dedicated to pastureland and crop land has decreased over the last decade as well. Sales of livestock and crops however have increased by 46% and 33% respectively. This plan will explore what this means for Flint Hills communities, the environment, and peoples’ livelihoods.
One of the many other components that drive change in the cultural and natural systems of the farming and ranching community of the Flint Hills is the threat posed by absentee ownership and the depletion of those working in rural areas. From 1997-2007, according the Agricultural Census, those claiming farming and ranching as their primary occupation has decreased from 52% to 47%, a steady decline in both urban and rural populations.
Goals For the Future
The future of farming and ranching in the Flint Hills Region is centered around the ideas of sustainable practices that preserve and improve the viability of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and the quality of life of the farmers and ranchers. The goals are:
- Education: Educate builders and local governments about the importance of farming and ranching to the region’s ecology, economy, and culture.
- Land Preservation: Encourage land development in established communities, where existing infrastructure and services form affordable and efficient systems.
- Local Food: Food produced locally is available to local consumers.
- Marketing: Flint Hills region produced products are recognized nationally through marketing and outreach efforts.
- Youth: Youth are able to get into or stay involved in farming and ranching.
- Family Farms: Smaller, family sized farms and ranches are able to be successful.
- Prairie Preservation: Continue farming and ranching practices that align and enhance preservation of the prairie ecosystem and our way of life.
- Quality of life: Farmers and ranchers have a high quality of life with a living wage and access to amenities.
- Coordination with Tourism: Coordinate with branding and tourism initiatives to educate, both internally and externally, to the role of the grasslands play in feeding the world.
Achieving Our Goals
Our diverse and context sensitive list of strategies developed by our devoted planning staff and committed citizens will help the Flint Hills Region be a sustainable and prosperous place to live, work, play, do business and raise families.
Build the Story of the Flint Hills: Develop a regional "Flint Hills Tallgrass Roots of Success" story campaign through 4-H photography competition, that educates the public on the importance of ranching to the preservation of the tallgrass prairie.
Develop Local Kansas Test Kitchens: local food systems are redefining value added production models. Work with extension and commerce to develop regional or county-level Kansas certified test kitchens that act as entrepreneurial incubators for foodies. These kitchens could be hubs for educating and training future entrepreneurs and supply entrepreneurial support towards some of the hurdles of meeting state and national code standards in production.
Fund a Regional Branding Initiative for the Flint Hills: Regional jurisdictions and partners should fund a regional branding campaign and develop a coordinated marketing strategy.
Model Ordinances for Land Preservation: Flint Hills model ordinances could be developed based on regionally sensitive best practices to offer natural resource preservation, such as wetlands and riparian corridor setbacks, to Transfer and Purchase of Development Rights Rights programs and Scenic Corridor Standards. Comprehensive Plans could propose adoption of such standards into development codes to protect land values.
Develop Burning Cooperatives that Educate, Train and Supply the Needed Resources: Extension might provide personnel or training and a home to regional or county level burning cooperatives for small or hobby farmers. Where ranchettes are becoming more pervasive, a cooperative could give those that want to maintain traditional prescribed burning practices to do so, with-in costs.
Grasslands of the World: Flint Hills Discovery Center could serve as the regional facilitator for building an educational curriculum that follows the f'lows' of the grasslands in serving the world, through cultural, social and natural systems.
Where Viable, Investigate Transfer of Development Rights:Transfer Development Rights and Purchase of Development Rights programs have been successful solutions for protecting and preserving lands across the nation, from urban to rural environments.
Educate Young Farmers and Ranchers in Entrepreneurial Practices: Educate young farmers and ranchers and all of the Flint Hills in entrepreneurial practices. With a large portion of our region dedicated to government support, entrepreneurism could offer the region a more diversified portfolio moving forward. Teaching the youth of rural America skills that help them develop diversified solutions to the problems of tomorrow, can help the entire region become a healthier and more viable place for agricultural businesses in the 21st century.
Provide a Market Study to Support Distribution of local goods: Provide a market study of the state's metropolitan areas to investigate what local products are the best fit for the future. Connecting markets through an informed distribution network can be the turning point in a successful local food system.