Kelly speaks to Farm Bureau members on rural agenda
By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly outlined for Kansas Farm Bureau members Tuesday the administration’s rural policy agenda by emphasizing a commitment to securing a water supply to sustain agriculture production without imposition of government mandates.
“If we want family farms to be passed on to the next generation, we must act now,” Kelly said. “We’ll make additional investments to work with our producers and irrigators to ensure our water quality and quantity. But we all know that funding is not enough. There needs to be a broad-based agreement to improve our practices and adopt new technology so that we can protect farming and rural life.”
In an interview following her speech to 300 people at a Farm Bureau event next to the Capitol, the governor said she was committed to a collaborative process of reform that didn’t feature water management mandates. She said the best approach would be to build consensus on a strategic plan for water conservation. The Ogallala Aquifer beneath Kansas and a prolonged drought has led to anxiety about the water supply.
“I don’t think mandates work particularly well,” Kelly said. “I’m committed to bringing producers and other stakeholders to the table to insure a clean, abundant water supply for our children and our grandchildren and beyond.”
Kelly said agriculture was the largest industry in Kansas and supported more than 250,000 jobs. She said Kansas was the nation’s top producer of sorghum and winter wheat production and ranked third in cattle production. Exports surpassed $5 billion for the first time in history and agriculture businesses continued to expand in Kansas, she said.
“It’s important that our farmers, including our family farmers, are part of every budget decision and every policy change,” the governor said.
Kelly said she established an Office of Rural Prosperty during her first term to bring greater economic resources to smaller communities. In terms of that mission, she said, 80,000 more Kansans had access to high-speed internet important for business, education and medical services.
She said her administration was dedicated to bringing more affordable, safe housing to rural areas of Kansas.
She repeated her advocacy for expanding eligibility for Medicaid, arguing closure of rural hospitals jeopardized access to health care. Early adoption of Medicaid expansion — opposed by the GOP-led Legislature — would have brought at least $6 billion in federal funding to health care in Kansas.
“We have squandered over $6 billion of our own taxpayer money by not expanding Medicaid,” Kelly said. “I will continue to push for Medicaid expansion and I hope you will all join me in that effort.”
Kelly said she proposed the 2023 farm bill include crop insurance, voluntary conservation programs and investments in technological innovation. She promised to oppose burdensome federal regulations, including directives tied to bodies of water, listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken under the endangered species act and labeling requirements for the herbicide Atrazine.
“The proposed Atrazine regulations are an unnecessary barrier to farmers, who are the best stewards of their land and their resources,” the governor said.