The number of Kansans directly involved in agriculture production has dropped significantly in the last several decades, but agriculture remains an important part of the state’s economy and the selection of a state agriculture secretary is still a critical choice.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced last week that Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman was stepping down from his post. Rodman’s replacement will be Jackie McClaskey, who currently is a deputy secretary in the department.
Rodman was born and raised in Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University before embarking on a 37-year career with Cargill Inc., during which he worked in more than 30 countries. He brought a wealth of experience with various agribusiness industries to the job, but he’d mostly been away from Kansas for a long time. Nonetheless, when Brownback was elected and asked Rodman to come out of retirement and temporarily leave his home in Texas to serve as head of the Agriculture Department he agreed to do so. He said he would serve two or three years. It’s been three years and he’s ready to go home.
Among the most notable events of Rodman’s tenure was his decision to move almost all of the department’s operations from Topeka to Manhattan, where he said it could coordinate better with KSU. He also pushed a proposal during the last legislative session to eliminate most restrictions on out-of-state corporate ownership of Kansas farming businesses. After issuing some scathing criticism of the Kansas Biosciences Authority, Rodman was appointed by Brownback to the KBA board. He now chairs that board and will continue in that role after he moves back to Texas.
McClaskey also grew up in Kansas and graduated in 1993 from K-State, where, like Brownback, she served as student body president. She worked on Brownback’s 1994 campaign for Congress and in his Washington office, but returned to Kansas in 1996 to serve as assistant dean of KSU’s College of Agriculture. She joined the state agriculture department as deputy secretary at the beginning of Brownback’s term in January 2011.
The corporate farming effort stalled in the Legislature, but new reports quoted McClaskey as saying, “We knew this would like be more than a one-year effort.” It will be interesting to see how actively corporate farming initiatives are pursued under her leadership.
Sixteen years at KSU and the Agriculture Department should give McClaskey a strong handle on the needs of Kansas farmers. Hopefully, she will keep the best interests of those farmers at the front of her thinking as she considers efforts to bolster the state’s agricultural economy.