Creating a new Cabinet-level position of secretary of agriculture and eliminating the current system under which farm organizations select the state's top farm official is the goal of legislation proposed by a Lawrence legislator.
"The bill provides for the transfer of all of the functions of the present Board of Agriculture to a newly created Department of Agriculture," said Rep. Forrest Swall, D-Lawrence.
Swall, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said under his bill the governor would appoint the secretary of agriculture and the Kansas Senate would confirm the appointment.
The change would make the state's top agriculture official accountable to all the state's voters.
"At the present time, the Board of Agriculture is essentially accountable to major farm organizations in the state of Kansas," Swall said. "And there is some concern that a few farm organizations provide the major influence and the direction of the farm policy."
THE BOARD of Agriculture now, through its six divisions, regulates various agricultural industries, promotes agricultural development, regulates water resources and collects and distributes information about agriculture in the state.
The 12 members on the board are elected from six districts at an annual meeting by authorized delegates from Kansas agricultural organizations. The secretary of the board is elected for a two-year term. The system has been in place since 1872.
Swall, who introduced the bill Friday, said he expected an uphill battle to change the current system; farm organizations are likely to fight the proposed change as they have in the past.
"It's been introduced several times either as a separate bill or amendments, and, of course, it's never gotten anywhere," he said. "A bill introduced by a first-term Democrat is not likely to pass. But at least it might fuel the basis for getting into a discussion about the issue."
FEDERAL District Judge John Lungstrum has issued an injunction that temporarily stopped elections this year to the state Board of Agriculture.
"His contention was that the way it is now is not constitutional," Swall said. "If we're going to stay with the Board of Agriculture, it's going to have to change so that more people can be involved."
Swall said proposals have been made so that the state Board of Agriculture is elected the same way members of the state Board of Education are elected.
Another suggestion has been that the top agricultural official be made into a statewide elected post, as are state treasurer or state insurance commissioner, Swall said.
However, Swall said making the agriculture position a Cabinet-level office would mean that agriculture policy would more easily mesh with the state's economic development and social welfare policies.
"One of the arguments against making changes is that there seems to be a strong feeling that things have gone well for agriculture in the past," Swall said.