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Kansas cattle drive the economy

Cowtowns & Skyscrapers: Pound for pound, Kansas beef cattle propel our economy and more.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

June 14, 2024

3 Min Read
Black cow in field
ECONOMIC DRIVER: Cattle drive the Kansas economy, to the tune of $10 billion, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture..tomofbluesprings/Getty images

Ten. Billion. Dollars.

The beef cattle sector added a total $10 billion to the Kansas economy in 2023, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s 2023 Economic Contribution Report, released in August. That includes beef cattle ranching, feedlots and dual-purpose ranching and farming sectors, as well as the direct, indirect and induced effects.

They also support a little more than 54,000 jobs on the ranch, in the feedlot and in the packing plants in our state.

From the Flint Hills pastures to the western Kansas feedlots and every farm and small town in between, our state economy is driven by cattle.

And yet, many Kansans don’t understand how essential cattle are to their livelihoods. They take for granted the economic prosperity that cattle bring to their own families. Or worse, they mistakenly affix blame to cattle for whatever outrage of the day is hot, and in the end, wind up inflicting great damage to bystanders they didn’t intend.

The beef cattle economic chain is delicate, really. So many pieces have to fall into place to keep it in balance. One stressor at any point in the chain — no matter how slight — can have bigger ripples at another end. Environmental regulations, changes in labor laws, tax and estate planning policy, weather, and the dreaded “black swan” event or two — they all have the potential to harm.

Even the well-meaning moves.

Logic and heart don’t always go hand in hand when people are choosing what side of an issue to call their own. All too often, when people lack the understanding of the logic behind a choice, they fill in the empty space with their feelings.

And in the case of animal agriculture, those feelings can often be fear or anger that have been ginned up with heart-tugging ads and outright falsehoods. It’s a costly miscommunication, to be sure. But we risk making it even more costly by responding with our own fear and contempt for those outside of our circle.

We have about 10 billion reasons in Kansas to rethink how we, as individuals, approach consumers who don’t understand the Kansas cattle industry. There’s only so much that the Kansas Beef Council staff can do — ultimately, we as individuals have skin in this game, too. We all need to take on the education and marketing mantle in our own ways.

Truly, is $10 billion enough reason to go to your local school district’s science teachers and volunteer to talk about the genomics you use in your herd, and how that information makes a better burger on the plate?

Is $10 billion enough to reason to start a conversation at the grocery store with the parent who’s standing in front of the meat case with a concerned look? Can you take a minute to tell them how beef is not only safe, nutritious and affordable, but also share how you raise it with an eye to sustainability for your ranch and your community?

For $10 billion, what are you willing to do to help our neighbors understand that Kansas cattle drive our economy?

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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