Giving Compass' Take:

• For years Kansas farmers worked to increase yields on commodity crops, depressing prices and forcing many farmers off of their land. As the rural population declines, they lose political clout and automation replaces jobs, perpetuating a cycle of population decline. 

• How can rural Kansas pivot to farming strategies that bolster, rather than depress the economy? How can philanthropy help to ease this transition? 

• Find out how philanthropy can help rural communities

The population in most of Kansas’s rural counties peaked 50 years ago or earlier. The state’s annual population growth rate is among the slowest in the country, steadily falling from 1.2 percent in 1960 to 0.9 percent in 2016, with nearly all of that meager growth concentrated in a handful of eastern urban areas.

In 2016, the state grew 467 million bushels of wheat across 8.2 million acres, an area almost twice the size of New Jersey. Hard Red Winter wheat, a hearty, versatile variety that dominates the landscape with its firm, tannish tassels, accounts for 95 percent of Kansas’s wheat acreage, which in turn represents 40 percent of America’s total Hard Red Winter crop. Most years, Kansas is the top U.S. wheat producer as well as exporter, contributing as much as 20 percent of the country’s overall crop.

Almost 90 percent of Kansas’s total land area is devoted to agriculture.

Kansans worked for generations to transform the prairie grasslands into this solidly planted landscape. Farmers accepted that heritage until their communities began to shrivel and die.

“Kansas farmers feed the world.” Both today and in years past, I heard this truism spoken with deep pride, a rationalization for all the hard work and money spent to keep improving yields. For some, though, this rural mantra has started to smack of a con. While farmers have toiled to increase output at every opportunity, they now are seeing their incomes fall in return.

It is dark irony that, by focusing on production, Kansas farmers have devalued their own goods. Ever more sophisticated technology has led to a commodity grains glut that—thanks to the simple law of supply and demand—has crashed prices.

Read the full article about rural Kansas by Corie Brown at The New Food Economy.