Barry Flinchbaugh, whose remarkable career in agricultural policy at Kansas State University spanned nearly a half-century, died Nov. 2 at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka. He was 78 years old.
The charismatic Flinchbaugh was well known as one of the United States' leading experts on agricultural policy and agricultural economics. For more than four decades, he was a top adviser to politicians of both major political parties, including secretaries of agriculture, chairs of the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture committees, and numerous senators and state governors.
Flinchbaugh was involved to some degree in every U.S. farm bill written since 1968, and served on many national boards, advisory groups and task forces, providing input on domestic food and agricultural policy.
He served as the chairman of the Commission on 21st Century Production Agriculture, which was authorized in the 1996 Federal Activities Inventory Reform, or FAIR, Act, also known as the Freedom to Farm Act.
"Barry Flinchbaugh will be deeply missed by many generations of the K-State family," said K-State President Richard Myers. "His expertise and vast contributions to the university, the state and agricultural economics will have a lasting impact on the world for years to come through those whom he taught and counseled. His experiences have touched the lives of many and his wonderfully feisty, thoughtful, helpful and kind personality will be his legacy forever."
"Agriculture has and always will be the backbone of Kansas’ economy," said Gov. Laura Kelly said. "Dr. Flinchbaugh helped shape agriculture policy for more than a half-century. While we will miss him and his enormous contributions to our state, he leaves behind a legacy as a Kansan who improved the livelihoods of Kansas farmers, ranchers, producers — and agriculture workers across the nation."
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas, who worked closely with Flinchbaugh on farm bill legislation, wrote his condolences on Twitter.
"Franki and I are deeply saddened by the news of Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh's passing earlier today," Roberts said. "Dr. Flinchbaugh was nothing short of a legend in his field. His expertise made him one of the most coveted and trusted advisers for agricultural policy for decades.
"Dr. Flinchbaugh's legacy as an educator and advocate will live on through his work at K-State and his lifetime of dedication to agriculture. I will not only miss his guidance, but I will also miss his friendship, wit and humor."
Flinchbaugh grew up in York, Pennsylvania, and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Penn State University. He earned a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University before joining the K-State faculty in 1971.
At the time of his death, he was professor emeritus in K-State's Department of Agricultural Economics, teaching a 400-level course in agricultural policy each fall. He also served several years as chair of the Landon Lecture Patrons, who support the university's prestigious Landon Lecture Series.
A dynamic speaker, it was reported that Flinchbaugh would receive as many as 100 speaking invitations per year. He authored more than 100 publications and co-authored a textbook on agricultural policy.
Flinchbaugh's no-nonsense style was both loved and cursed; he was known to lay out the facts of an issue whether it was politically correct or not. In a biographical sketch detailing his speaking qualifications, a farmer in Colby once said about Flinchbaugh: "I do not agree with a damn thing you said, but the next time you are in town making a speech, I will be here."
K-State honored Flinchbaugh with its prestigious Outstanding Teacher Award three times during his career. It is estimated that he taught agricultural policy to more than 4,000 undergraduate students. He connected the university to hundreds of thousands of people by giving presentations to farmers, agricultural business groups and more through its extension mission.
"Our students, faculty and staff are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, and our thoughts are with the Flinchbaugh family during this challenging time," said Ernie Minton, dean of the K-State College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension. "Barry was known as the absolute authority on agricultural policy for decades. Few faculty members have had the opportunity to impact so many students and at the same time affect national agricultural policy as Dr. Flinchbaugh.
"We are going to miss his presence on campus, his expertise, his direct talk, his friendship and his affable personality and wit," Minton said. "We will never forget the mischievous smile underneath his white beard and the bump of his walking cane on the floor following the delivery of a good one-liner."
Upon his retirement in 2004 as the state leader of agricultural economics, a news release from K-State Research and Extension quotes Flinchbaugh as saying he wants college students and experienced farmers alike to have fun while they're learning.
"But I also want them to be uncomfortable… to think outside the box. Occasionally you'll make somebody mad. That's one of the risks. But they'll remember what you said."
Flinchbaugh said one of his proudest professional moments came in 1971-1974 when he worked on a farm tax issue. During that time, he gave 300 presentations and visited all 105 counties in Kansas at least once.
"Barry Flinchbaugh was a man who loved his family, students, university and country," said Mark Gardiner, Gardiner Angus Ranch, Ashland. "He cared about all people, from the president of the United States to young people trying to learn. We all were better educated after learning from Barry, yet we were better people from experiencing his zest for life."
Flinchbaugh is survived in the family's Manhattan home by his wife, Cathy. Funeral arrangements are pending. Flinchbaugh’s family will conduct a private family burial and plans to host a public celebration of his life sometime after the pandemic. Contributions in honor of Flinchbaugh may be made to the Flinchbaugh Scholarship Fund, the Flinchbaugh Agricultural Policy Chair, or a charity of their choice in his name.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas, said the following:
"Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh was an icon of agricultural policy in Kansas and throughout the nation. Dr. Flinchbaugh was well known for his involvement in helping craft farm bills for nearly five decades, and his authority on agriculture issues made him a trusted advisor to me and many prominent federal officials of both parties throughout his lifetime.
"More importantly, Dr. Flinchbaugh was my friend. We met when I called him more than 30 years ago to ask a question about Kansas tax policy. Ever since, I've admired and respected (loved) him. He spoke his mind, told me what he thought and made me a better senator and person. His death is a huge loss to me and all of his many friends, and it is hard to find the words to capture a man revered by so many. There may be no Kansan whose company I enjoyed more.
“Each year I would make a surprise visit to his ag policy class at K-State. His trademark sarcasm, wit and quips that made him a talented professor and a sought-after speaker was always on full display at the front of the classroom. I saw he loved and cared about his students and these feelings were mutual.
"There is no doubt Dr. Flinchbaugh's presence in ag policy will be felt for generations to come through the thousands of students he taught and mentored during his decadeslong career as a professor at K-State. His loss will be felt deeply within the ag community, and Robba and I will be praying for Dr. Flinchbaugh's family and loved ones during this time."
Amy Button Renz, president and CEO of the K-State Alumni Association, said, "Barry Flinchbaugh was a wonderful member of the K-State family and a friend to not only the K-State Alumni Association but to me and many of our staff. He led multiple Traveling Wildcats tours for the association and had a very loyal following. His kindness, wit and infamous personality will truly be missed. My heartfelt sympathies are with Cathy and his children.
"Each year, the K-State Alumni Association presents the Flinchbaugh Family Wildcat Pride Award to a current or emeritus K-State faculty or staff member for his or her advocacy of alumni relations, with a special emphasis on support and participation in alumni programs that engage members of the Wildcat family. An original recipient of the award in 2011, Barry and Cathy endowed the award with a gift in 2015.
"Barry's family was very important to him and he loved to share stories about his children," Renz said. "We are honored to have an award named in honor of his family at the Association. Barry had unbelievable pride in Kansas State University and understood the important role that faculty and staff hold in strengthening the bond between alumni and their alma mater."
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Flinchbaugh was often a welcome, independent voice at the Farm Futures Summit. His in-depth knowledge combined with his homespun approach allowed him to connect with farmers from across the country.