Archive for Sunday, October 8, 2006

Shrinking population vexes rural Kansas

October 8, 2006


— Waiting to deliver a load of sunflowers at a processing plant, dryland farmer Tim Peterson was of two minds about rural Kansas.

On one hand, some folks rooted in the vast stretches of empty landscape have become energized by innovation and entrepreneurship, he said.

On the other hand, global market forces are consolidating family farms into ever-growing corporate farms, chasing the population away.

"We're fighting what's going on globally. This is happening in all the industrial countries - increased urbanization, increased concentration of land in fewer and fewer hands," Peterson said.

Not keeping pace

Kansas is a poster child for migration out of the rural areas. Fifty-four of the state's 105 counties have less population now than in 1900. Fifty counties lost population between 1990 and 2000, 12 by more than 10 percent.

When William Allen White wrote his famous "What's the matter with Kansas?" screed in 1896, he complained about eight years of slow population growth.

Steve Brant, a farmer in Luray, Kan., pulls his laundry from the clothesline Thursday afternoon. Brant lives in a home on the edge of town with his father, Jim, and older brother Rick. Supporters of rural Kansas continue to seek ways to reduce the number of residents who leave for more populated areas. Fifty-four of the state's 105 counties have less population now than in 1900.

Steve Brant, a farmer in Luray, Kan., pulls his laundry from the clothesline Thursday afternoon. Brant lives in a home on the edge of town with his father, Jim, and older brother Rick. Supporters of rural Kansas continue to seek ways to reduce the number of residents who leave for more populated areas. Fifty-four of the state's 105 counties have less population now than in 1900.

"Little does he know that it is going to go on for the next 110 years," said Jim Hays, a research specialist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. "How quickly the world changed. The Kansas of the late 19th century - the growth, the vigor - it quickly changed. We had eight members of Congress back then, now we have four, and we're probably going to go down to three in the next census," he said.

According to Hays' research, in 1890, Kansas had 2.27 percent of the United States' population. Today that has decreased to less than 1 percent.

So-called frontier and rural counties continue to lose population while urban and semi-urban counties gain.

Leaders wanted

Trying to stem the migration, Laura McClure of Osborne spends most of her waking hours promoting rural Kansas.

It's a tough job. She said some communities are moving forward and others aren't. Countless studies have been done on why that is, but none seem to have a definitive answer.

But McClure said it comes down to local leadership.

"The biggest asset that communities have to have are leaders," she said.

"You can drive into a community and you can tell by the attitude, what the people are saying, if there is strong leadership that has hope and vision," she said.

She said Osborne County, which has about 4,200 residents, has seen some young families returning for the easier pace of life and safety. Connected to their jobs by the Internet, she said, they earn a living out of their homes thanks to broadband access.

For example, a family company in Downs competes worldwide in advertising and marketing farm equipment, she said.

Why should we care?

But with market forces driving people to leave western Kansas and many other rural areas, is there any reason to try to stop the migration?

In the 1980s, professors Frank and Deborah Popper raised hackles by saying the Great Plains should be given back to the buffalo. They said the population declines were inevitable because modern agriculture required fewer people and eventually agriculture on the plains would be unsustainable because of dwindling groundwater resources.

But Terry Woodbury, a consultant for small communities, said society needs rural, small-town and isolated parts of Kansas.

Woodbury splits his time between two worlds, living in an apartment loft in Kansas City, Kan., and his ranch in Wichita County.

When he speaks to urban high-rollers, he asks for a show of hands of how many grew up in small towns. Always, more than half of them had, he said.

Then he asks them to recall their childhood and say whether they believe their children, now living in cities and suburbs, were experiencing as full a life. The answer is invariably no, he said.

"If we are abandoning our small towns where our core values of neighboring and community are formed, we will have a society that is in real trouble in 50 years," he said.

Woodbury has a missionary zeal to "rebuild the public square."

Getting small communities back on their feet, engaged in their futures, will produce the leadership needed to tackle the real issues confronting our society, such as the ones brought up by the Poppers, he said.

Currently, he said, there is too much cynicism and single-interest politics, which in turn chases away quality leaders from politics.

But he said he was optimistic that as small communities grapple with the tough issues of surviving, they will produce the kind of leaders that can help meet society's future problems.

"Anything is possible if you have a dozen people who have dedicated themselves.

"In these communities, I find incredible human beings at work. They have everything at stake, their life, history, future savings. It's all on the line," he said.

Peterson, the farmer in western Kansas, said he has tried to adjust to the market forces. He plants corn and milo and said his 400 acres of sunflowers are used for a specialty food oil low in trans fats.

"There are isolated pockets of local people taking control on what is going on," he said.

What the candidates say about rural development

What have you done in the past and what will you do in the future to increase development in rural areas of Kansas and reduce the out-migration from large areas of the state?

Kathleen Sebelius: Rural Kansas is one of the treasures of our state that we must continue working to protect, preserve and grow. In 2004, I signed the Kansas Economic Growth Act, which included the rural business development program. This program provides $7 million in tax credits over a three-year period. This past year, I increased the rural business development tax credit from 50 percent to 75 percent. Also, I have recently called for and signed legislation that cuts the taxes on new equipment and machinery - which is a great opportunity for every business, and especially farmers. Ethanol use is a very important part of moving Kansas' economy forward. I chair the 32-state National Ethanol Coalition created by the National Governor's Assn. At home in Kansas, I signed legislation this year that removes ethanol labels on gas at the pump, and ethanol use has increased 600 percent in the last year in this state. I have also signed two laws that, combined, reduced the tax on ethanol by 7 cents in 2007 and 13 cents by 2020. Creating the foundation for strong development in rural Kansas is only half the battle. We must work to promote these great opportunities throughout the state, the country, and the world. In 2004, I signed the Agritourism Promotion Act, as well as traveling to Japan to lobby for reopening their markets to beef. Our agritourism industry is on the rise, and Japan is nearing a renewed relationship with Kansas beef producers. Providing accessible health care is a challenge for rural Kansas, and it is vital if we are to maintain a rural way of life. Since becoming governor, I have seized every opportunity to make health care more affordable and accessible. I proposed and signed a law that doubles tax credits for small businesses so they could afford to provide health insurance for their employees. I've also approved Health Savings Accounts that let people pay less for health treatment by using pre-tax dollars while saving for retirement. Moving forward, I will continue not only strengthening our bedrock rural industries such as agriculture and beef, but also expand our newest industries in renewable energies such as wind and bio-fuels. With Japan having reopened its markets to American beef, Kansas must regain our standing as a primary exporter of this product. Restoring this relationship will bolster the rural Kansas economy and reaffirm our relationship with a global trading partner. I have proven my commitment to these efforts for the past four years, and I hope to be given the chance to continue for four more.

Jim Barnett: In order to reverse the downward population trend in rural Kansas, we must provide greater economic opportunity, excellent education and quality health care. In the Kansas Senate, I helped write key components of the Kansas Bioscience initiative, which will help generate new business and new jobs in all parts of Kansas. I worked to secure funding for the Future Teacher Academy to expose kids from Kansas to the teaching profession and encourage them to consider teaching as a career. I have been very active in supporting Critical Access Hospitals for our rural communities, as well as the Kansas Health Policy Authority. Kansas spends approximately $150,000 for every child starting in kindergarten and completing a degree at one of the regents institutions. Too many of our graduates must relocate to a more urban area, or leave Kansas altogether, in order to find suitable employment. Job growth in Kansas has been at 1.9 percent during the Sebelius administration, compared with 3.1 percent in Missouri, 3.9 percent in Oklahoma and Nebraska, and 4.8 percent in Colorado. I have proposed a 10-percent investment tax credit for all businesses and farms, large or small. This would allow Kansas business to write off 10 percent of capital investments, encouraging more investment and greater job growth. This would be particularly beneficial to the key players in the future of rural Kansas, small businesses and those developing new technologies. Perhaps more than urban school districts, the schools in our smaller communities provide a center and an identity. We must continue to seek new efficiencies and greater opportunities for learning through technology in our rural school districts. As governor, I will continue to promote our network of rural medical facilities. It is much easier to grow our own health care professionals here in Kansas than trying to find them elsewhere. That's why I will fight to ensure that the KU Medical School retains as its primary mission the education of our future generation of doctors, nurses and other health care providers.


prioress 11 years, 3 months ago

Global warming means that all too soon Kansas - from Emporia to the Colorado border - will be a semi-arid desert.

It has been a near desert for decades, if not centuries. The use of the aquifer masks this, but the days of easy water are numbered. We need to think of new ways to save rural America. Without it, we all lose something of value.......

xenophonschild 11 years, 3 months ago

Everyone in my family cherishes a profound love for Kansas, and we are perplexed and angry that more hasn't been done to preserve and nurture western Kansas, instead of simply exploiting it for agriculture/ranching.

It is perhaps already too late. They have sinned against Kansas, against us all.

whistlestop75 11 years, 3 months ago

mommy3 and Westernkan... Try any of the counties in southeast and land are affordable and jobs are out there...check or would be amazed...of course the payscale is not as high, but the cost of living is not as great...the schools are wonderful...some are 3A...some are 4A...

whistlestop75 11 years, 3 months ago

There is also for Parsons, Ks. and for Pittsburg, Ks. Any of these towns would welcome you as would many small, small towns in between without daily newspapers...

Scott Tichenor 11 years, 3 months ago

Lets see... there's the war in Iraq (that's going nicely), the Foley scandal (page 4) , the economy is in the tank and the "party of moral values" is in the process of flushing itself down the toitie. So on the front page on this fine Sunday--a day when some of have time to read the entire paper--we get the news bomb that rural Kansas is shrinking! And wow, here's an added bonus for the online version: there's Jim Ryun's mug on an advertisement at the top of the page.

For all of the yap this newspaper provides criticizing the city and university leadership, please be aware that many of us think this newspaper's leadership and the manner in which news is presented in this paper is out of touch with reality.

Anyone that buys the notion the press is controlled by liberals has never read this newspaper. Your job should be to report the news. Instead, this paper too often gets used as a tool to further the well known political views of the owners.

mommy3 11 years, 3 months ago

I can't believe they really can't figure out why people are leaving. We can't afford to drive an hour to go to Wal-mart. Land is so high, who could afford to by it? If I could get a good deal on some land, I would move out west. Money doesn't stretch as far as it used to. Prices go up, but the wages we earn are too low. There isn't a median any more. I once thought if we could make about 40,000.00 a year then we would be doing good, but now that wouldn't get the house payment, car payment, insurance, electric, gas, water, food...etc. The cost of living is too high, so people choose to live closer to jobs that could be promising.

ASBESTOS 11 years, 3 months ago

The real reason that Rural Kansas is shrinking is because of the efforts of KFB and KLA. They forced the legislature to go down this road and have destroyed the "family farm" in Kansas. ANY reference to it is a myth. Sure there are some holdouts, but it is gone.

It could be fixed by TAXING the corporate farming operations, and only giving "family farmers" a tax break. The State would have to define what a "family farm" is in terms of either production dollars or land farmed.

Withdrawing the tax breaks given to the "Corporate farming Operation" would entice the farming occupations to go with smaller operations, which are more efficient at the "family" level. We cannot support the rural school districts and cities, for the very fact that the largest producers are NOT paying any real taxes.

xenophonschild 11 years, 3 months ago

Global warming means that all too soon Kansas - from Emporia to the Colorado border - will be a semi-arid desert.

I think it's God's punishment on the people for being ultra-conservative fundamentalist Republicans.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 3 months ago

mommy3, you forgot to add into your calculation:

cable/satellite TV cell phones computer games fashion clothing fast food gas-guzzling SUV

These things are expensive.

cicerosissue 11 years, 3 months ago

Nugget - Someone with your online savvy must realize other newspapers more than adequately cover (read: beat to death) national and international affairs. They are only a click away. I commend the LJWorld for spending quality ink and bytes on an issue important to many Kansans even though it rarely gets the level of attention it deserves, especially from our state-wide elected officials.

Godot 11 years, 3 months ago

Note that Sebelius targeted Smith County for "help." The result? The World Palace of Peace is locating there, buying up farm land and threatening the county with legal action if they try to stand in the way of these "peaceful people."

good job, Sebelius. (sarcasm)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 3 months ago

Godot-- what do you think that the TM'ers are going to do with that land? If they are going to develop it and cause Smith County to grow, isn't that good? Isn't growth always good, and isn't it always bad when government does anything that in any way hinders growth?

Godot 11 years, 3 months ago

The TMers are setting up their own government in Smith Center. The current citizens will have to conform to the way of the TMers or face consequences.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 3 months ago

Exactly how will they do that, Godot?

Geez, you're pathetic.

Godot 11 years, 3 months ago

You should study up on them, Bozo. That was in their initial press release on the project.

glockenspiel 11 years, 3 months ago

You people know nothing of Rural Kansas. Half the posts on this board could have been copied and pasted in every negative article that you read.

There aren't enough jobs to maintain populations. The cost in manhours per acre to grow crops is incredibly lower than it once was. This isn't due to coorportate farming, but rather technology. Fewer man-hours, fewer jobs. Fewer jobs, fewer incomes. Fewer incomes, fewer local buisnesses. Fewer local buisnesses, fewer jobs... and on and on...

Young people watch TV. They want to see the rest of the world. That's why I moved away from the farm, because I want to experience more. I worry about my father every day. He works his ass off, has no retirement fund...but what can you do for him and other farmers?

I think it's God's punishment on the people for being ultra-conservative fundamentalist Republicans.

Remarks like that puzzle the hell out of me. Maybe Kansas is bigoted after all.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 3 months ago

"Remarks like that puzzle the hell out of me. Maybe Kansas is bigoted after all."

It's called sarcasm, Einstein.

Mike Ford 11 years, 3 months ago

I have a family member whose been a clergyman in small towns (the last couple in Kansas). While the congregational people were decent people, you have to look at each town as a whole. Yes, it takes ingenuity to survive in this niche of society. But you have to look deeper into this phenomenon. Many of the pioneering settlers of these communities came to unihabited areas inasmuch a reason as the people who build $400,000 homes on the perimeter of Lawrence. White flight. That, and also to create pockets of ideology that couldn't be empirically attacked by anyone who wanted to remain in this community. Thus, they could turn the arguement into an "Us versus Them" equasion, and quash their own dissenters by running them out of town, much like the fundamentalistic religons and churches do by shunning those people who justifiably disagree. Look at the Liquor Store in McLouth fiasco. There's nothing funnier to me than watching the people whom I grew up around lashing out at the very item they were previously willing to drive six to ten miles in each direction to get, not to mention, Scotch-Irish and German people have a fondness for alcohol. It's befuddling. Worst of all, they believe everything they see on FOX Network firsthand (Yikes!) A little concept of diversity in many of these towns would go a long way, but wait a minute, the towns were founded on White flight principals. Wait a minute, the diversity left when the town founders were complicit in the theft of the Native lands that they founded their towns on. Uh oh, I've gone against the town's grain, better make me leave.

P.S. The bigotry started with Reverends Falwell and Robertson saying that Florida was hit by hurricanes because God didn't like Gay People. That's bigotry, not the comment above.

ASBESTOS 11 years, 3 months ago

This is a database of farm subsidies from the Dept. Of AG. (USDA that is), and produced by the Environmental Working Group.

The only real "income" for most farms is the "subsidy". YOu will also see that the largest gorup getting subsidies are the "Corporate Farms" and not the "family Farms". It is called "Farming the Government".

It truley is an eye opener. What do you think will get cut first in a Democrat lead house and Senate? That is right Farm Subsidies. The money will get redirected to the other issues in more populated areas and Kansas will loose over a third of their "income" and revenue.

Does that sound like we know what we are talking about yet?

MyName 11 years, 3 months ago

A few things, first of all, the school board guy was probably quoted accurately when he said we have "four members of congress", but we actually have six members of congress, four representatives and 2 senators. Also, Godot, the website you linked to said it was a $592/mo house payment, not a $192/mo house payment. That house would be worth a lot more than that if it was in Lawrence, but it's probably not economical to commute for alot of people living in Lawrence.

EVEN IF YOU COULD MAKE A LIVING FARMING most folks today, don"t want to get that dirty or work nearly that hard

There are plenty of people in this country who work hard and dirty, and live in a city. The only advantage the farm has ever had is that out on the farm, you're working for yourself, while in the city you're working for The Man.

Of course, all that's changed now and all to often if you're working on a farm you're either working for the bank, or you're working for a big corporation. It seems like now the only way to keep from working for The Man is to start your own business in the city, and that still takes alot of hard work and is getting hard to do every year.

roger_o_thornhill 11 years, 3 months ago

The post by godot that is supposed to show the affordability of rural life doesn't make the case well. Cherokee isn't exactly out in the "boonies". Also, $117,000 is only subjectively affordable. Can't exactly farm much on 140x300. Of course, I'm being too nitpicky. The point has some validity. I think that there are affordable housing choices in rural Kansas, but you have to figure how to make your living. It also involves a different life from that on TV. The internet is a boon for rural life that many don't consider. UPS, DHL, and FEDEX deliver everywhere.

Modern farming is kind of screwy though. Why only grow soybeans, wheat, and corn? At least some out west have found markets for sunflowers. I realize this isn't an area where any vegetables grow naturally, but surely other things could be grown with as much or less impact than what is currently grown and subsidized. How much corn do we need anyways? And if ethanol is so great, why did it only sell well after the "ethanol" label was removed? Sorry folks, corn isn't going to fix the world.

"At home in Kansas, I signed legislation this year that removes ethanol labels on gas at the pump, and ethanol use has increased 600 percent in the last year in this state." -evil Sebelius.

Of course hemp would be a good crop for Kansas farmers if it weren't for folks who would rather listen to lies and half-truths from folks who have an economic interest in keeping it an "illegal crop", despite its lack of smokability. Much better to grow eleventy-billion bushells of corn. Mmmm, tasty corn.

Angela Heili 11 years, 3 months ago

We've tried to get out in the country for years. I grew up on a farm, that my dad helped with, and I loved it. I would really like my children to experience that as well. However, as mommyof3 stated, we can't afford it. It's ridiculous the prices of land out there.

I've seen some places out there in the country that are going for 5 and $600,000. It's nuts. We have four children, therefore, need a good sized house, and to put that on several acres of land just shoots the price to the moon.

We have to stay close to the K.C. area because my husband commutes, so we are limited at how far out there we can go. The prices are cheaper the further away from Lawrence, and K.C. you go, but the commute is further and just not feasable. He doesn't want to have to drive an hour or more, one way, to get to work, and that's what it would have to be in order for us to find property that we could afford.

xenophonschild 11 years, 3 months ago

Subtlety just breezes past some of you.

When I suggested that the travails of western Kansas were perhaps punishment from God for their being reprehensible ultra-conservative bible-thumping fundamentalist Republicans, I was repeating the logic of many 1930s Kansas preachers who assured their congregations that the Depression and Dust Bowl were the direct result of their sins and transgressions against God.

Reality is, the farmers in western Kansas are depleting the Ogallala acquifer so precipitately - adversely affecting soil moisture levels - that the point of no return has already been passed. It is merely a matter of time before western Kansas is a semi-arid desert.

And I don't believe in any man-made, human-manufactured concept of God . . . or karma.

theadvocate 11 years, 3 months ago

Get some transportation in western Kansas. Many of us can work from anywhere with internet connections, but we must have access to an airport. We can't do business in isolation.

Build it, they will come.

mommy3 11 years, 3 months ago

If I knew we would have work within a decent distance: 40-60 miles at most. Then we would go. Someone keeps saying, "You can find work on the internet"....WHERE?? There is hardley any opportunities available for the blue collar family on the internet. My husband works for Sunflower, they pay hardley anything. He gets a company truck, so that is the only way we can barley afford to stay with them. If he had to commute on his own, with his current wages, there would be no way! Gas it too high, utilities are too high.....I could go on and on. I recently looked at house here in Tonganoxie that was a regular three bed 2 bath split level......$189,000.00!!!! What ever! Yes, a house out in the boonies would be less, but at what price for other things??? Not just conviences, but living expenses. I grew up in the country too, I miss it. I want my kids to have that same experience, but at this rate I doubt they ever will. Housing is cray high...everything is too high. They need to look more at the working class people, and see where things are going wrong.

Godot 11 years, 3 months ago

" Also, Godot, the website you linked to said it was a $592/mo house payment, not a $192/mo house payment."

I thought I posted two links, one with a $117, 000 house at $592 a month and one with a house in Lynn Coutny (commuting distance to KC on Hwy 69) for under $30 or $40K, at $192 per month.

You cannot rent for that. You would have a hard time renting for $592!!!

Some of the retired folks in Lawrence who are complaining about the high taxes, and who do not need jobs, should consider selling, taking their tax-free profit, and buying a nice house in a quiet community for cash, and socking away the abuandant cash that is left over.

xenophonschild 11 years, 3 months ago

Keep an eye on weather patterns; it may be that parts of western Kansas, particularly those with limestone bedrock, can someday grow grapes and turn the area into another Provence.

Godot 11 years, 3 months ago

yeah, xeno, and watch out for them contrails, too.

Westernkan 11 years, 3 months ago

I came to eastern Kansas from western Kansas, the economy there is so bad, the fuel prices for farms are real high, crop prices are so low, the drought is real bad, so there are many people that does not have and choices but move. I wish I could move back because there is no crime rate, you can leave your house unlocked and not worry, or leave your keys in your vehicles and not worry.

Katara 11 years, 3 months ago

Godot wrote: Some of the retired folks in Lawrence who are complaining about the high taxes, and who do not need jobs, should consider selling, taking their tax-free profit, and buying a nice house in a quiet community for cash, and socking away the abuandant cash that is left over.

That is actually a pretty good idea. You could call your new real estate business "Golden Years Realty" or something along those lines.

ocardaugh 9 years, 11 months ago

My wife and I moved to south central Kansas in 2004, openned a bookstore, closed it, openned a dance studio, closed it and moved out of the state in 2007. What we found was a tight-knit, closed society which was so set in their ways that they couldn't believe that anyone would move into their town, let alone open a business there. The seeds of the town's eventual demise was sown long ago. My family and I will never return to that town or Kansas. Their loss.

gccs14r 9 years, 11 months ago

The first thing that needs to happen is that we need to consolidate to 8-10 counties from 105, saving millions a year in government overhead. The second thing that needs to happen is we need to consolidate 500 school districts into 1, saving more millions of dollars. Then we need to encourage dryland farming to preserve what remains of our water resources. Once we do these things, we may then have the resources to help rural Kansans figure out how to make a living.

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