This week we took a trip up north for the annual Great Plains Growers Conference (GPGC) in St. Joseph, MO. These types of annual farming related events occur during the winter months across the country, in an effort to take advantage of an increasingly short and rare “season off” for farmers. Unfortunately the threat of winter weather forced the cancellation of the first day of GPGC workshops this year, and Friday and Saturday enjoyed very cold temperatures. This conference is our first choice for attending because of its focus: growing and selling food in the KC area and the large amount of research-based information. The “growers” in attendance are in various farming related professionals largely from Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri, but even backyard growers can afford this conference, and learn so much useful information. Mark your calendar for next year now!
With multiple tracks or themes offered throughout the conference, we always find the topics highly relatable and informative for our farm business. There are also some good business and other resource opportunities available at the Trade Show portion for farmers to engage in. Importantly, it is also a gathering of familiar faces and knowledgeable pros that enjoy promoting and advancing farming. We are always happy to have attended the GPGC, and this year was no different. Even shortened by a full day, talks on Organic food production, fighting pests and weeds, tips on the business and finances of farming, and new ideas and proven methods for marketing and selling produce in the KC area offered the latest ideas for successful farming. Not overwhelmed or worn down in anyway, the drive back to the farm felt thoughtful and cerebral, so many new ideas and possibilities to implement in the upcoming year!
Another more minor aspect about the GPGC that we enjoy is its location. It has long been hosted by Western Missouri State University. The Griffons! Besides a great mascot, it’s a great looking campus and they are wonderful hosts. Established as a 4 year University in 1967, it has a Walter Cronkite Memorial in the lobby of the Student Union. For me, Cronkite was the face and voice of the world- Vietnam, the Moon landings, Watergate and Nixon, the rise of Reagan and so much more, all in black and white. It’s always a quick and interesting stroll down memory lane there as they have a nice collection of memorabilia and images from throughout Cronkite’s long and influential career. When the “most trusted man in America” ended his broadcast with his trade mark baritone of “and that’s the way it is”……. You believed it!
This year at GPGC was fairly bittersweet for us. There is always some sadness when we learn of or commemorate the loss of a colleague or fellow farmer who has quit the business, retired, become ill, or worse yet, passed away. It became apparent to us this year that a once incredibly valuable and exceptionable resource to farmers in the KC area and throughout Missouri has become a thin shadow of its former self- and that is the Lincoln University Cooperative Extension System. Frustratingly, LU has lost a series of fantastic agricultural experts who have had their farming and farmer support programs terminated due to budget cuts. These research programs helped farmers with all aspects of farming- soil health, plant growth, fighting pests, weeds and disease, using farm equipment and machines, cultivating ecosystems services, care of small ruminants, as well as the latest technical advances in computing and other modern tools for farming and selling farm products of all kinds. This exodus has decimated the once vibrant and informative programs that served farmers through Missouri for generations. It has quickly been eviscerated and we feel that is a terrible development for anyone who cares about farming or food in the KC area and Missouri.
Seven years ago, after doing some research, I bought my Missouri farm largely on the basis of the Extension Services available to farmers here- LU, MU and KSU all had very active and well respected Extension programs. This is no longer the case as budgets and resources have been slashed, and good professionals have lost their programs and or positions entirely. Others have seen the writing on the wall and found new positions in other states. Moral is obviously low and their effectiveness has been intentionally reduced. These programs benefitted both our farming and our farm business almost immeasurably. We are greatly distressed at this ongoing damage being done to our small farm community members.
The state of Missouri and the Governor would be wise to reverse this trend and reinvest in the Extension System at LU and at MU as well. I hope you will help out our fellow farmer citizens and call on the Governor and our legislature to do what is right and support Extension properly. It makes a very significant impact and helps farmers to survive and thrive. The budgets of extension programs are 50% funded by state and county governments and 50% by the federal government. In fact, they are directly tied together. Extension has to show $1 in state funds for every $1 they get from the USDA. So a $2 million cut in support from the state of Missouri is really like a $4 million dollar cut for our land-grant Universities.
Farming skills are being lost everyday, technology is moving at breakneck speed, especially within farming, and Missouri farmers will be left behind without the support and training offered by Extension. This is a critically important step in creating an effective and sustainable food system that will bring high quality food to KC. We are watching the unnecessary destruction of a valuable and important resource for farmers. If we take action, we can reverse this shortsighted mistake. I hope you will make your voice heard to support farming and the Extension professionals who support and advance farming in Missouri. Thanks for listening, we greatly appreciate your support and we cannot farm with it!
On a family note, as Katie and I were walking out of lunch (held in the University cafeteria), Katie spotted a poster on the wall advertising the Barbara Sprong Leadership Challenge. Barbara was Katie’s Aunt who passed away quite a few years ago. She was a wonderful role model and loving Aunt in Katie’s life. She was also a civic leader and community volunteer throughout her life in St. Joseph. It was nice to see that she is inspiring the next generation of community leadership at Missouri Western.