It’s mid-afternoon in Lawrence’s south-end Valley View Farm, where partners Rayna Burkhart and Panta Rhei perform the daily task of collecting the eggs laid by their hens only a few hours earlier. The eggs will receive a light cleaning and be delivered to customers and the rest will be sold at the local farmers market. While the couple enjoys the daily labor and attention that their hens and farm requires, like many other small-scale farmers in Kansas, they cannot pay bills with farm work alone.
Some small farms like Valley View are finding it increasingly difficult to stay in business while competing with large industrial farming operations whose outputs dwarf those of small farms and have monopolized much of the farming sector.
“Today, it is near impossible to make a living as an independent farmer,” Rhei said. “Farming is expensive. I have to take up other jobs to make ends meet.”
Since the late 1980s, many small-scale farms in Kansas have disappeared or have bought into the industrial farming model. This has created many family-run industrial farms in the western part of the state and radically changed the face of traditional farming.
University of Kansas Anthropology Professor, Donald Stull, has spent most of his life studying and writing about industrial farms and their impact on rural communities. Stull says that while some small farms can survive in the competitive environment created by industrial farming by focusing on niche markets, the future of farming and control of food production will inevitably be dominated by large industrial farms.
“The world population will reach 9 billion by 2050. The demand for meat is going to double.” Stull said. “How are we going to produce that (?)… We either have to stop eating meat or we’ll have to produce it. With the industrial model, you can produce more of that product on less land. The quality of the product is another question.”
Demographic, economic and climate changes are having a profound impact on the region and have accelerated the transition from traditional farming to the industrial model in many areas. Kansas Farmers Union President, Donn Teske, comes from a traditional farming background and has been active in protecting communities from state and corporate policy that aims at expanding industrial farming.
One of his primary concerns is the current actions by private interests and corporations to purchase large areas of land in the western part of the state.
“I think what we’ll see in the future is a new Buffalo Commons where more than two-thirds of the land in western Kansas could become corporate-owned land.” Teske said. “Outside investors are buying land as an investment, not necessarily for farming. This is a big issue.”
*** For more information on this topic click on the images or links below:
UPCOMING EVENT! – Friday 03/01/2013 — University of Kansas C-CHANGE Symposium
On Friday, March 1, 2013, from 4 to 7 p.m., come learn about the effects of climate change on Kansas communities and agricultural sector at the Commons in Spooner Hall. The University of Kansas is hosting a symposium for Climate Change Humans and Nature in the Global Environment (C-CHANGE).
02/15/2013 – Yahoo News: Farmland Up More Than 20-Percent
On Friday, February 15, 2013, The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City said that farmland values increased more than 20-percent since about this same period, last year. As the article describes, there is a growing trend in farmland acquisition by existing farmers seeking to expand, as well as private interests looking for secure investment opportunities.
03/15/2012 – PBS Video: Factory Farming – Kansas
This is a short Public Broadcasting Service video from about a year ago that provides an excellent visual explanation of the transformations that have taken place in Kansas agriculture over the decades. The images and narrative provide a clear, concise and effective way of presenting the complex issue of agriculture in Kansas.
02/25/2013 – Valley View Farm – Lawrence, Kansas