Gov. Laura Kelly tips hat at influence of Flint Hills grassland on Kansas beef industry

MANHATTAN — Rancher Jan Lyons provided the fitting backdrop of Flint Hills native grassland and about 100 Angus cows and calves Thursday for signing by Gov. Laura Kelly of a proclamation affirming the high value of the beef industry in Kansas.

“We have excellent spring water in this pasture,” said Lyons, the first woman to serve as president of the Kansas Livestock Association. “The green grass that is growing here is so full of nutrients that our cattle are in this at least 90% of their life. We’re able to grass feed healthfully and secure carbon in the ground.”

She said the Kansas beef industry was the single largest sector of the state’s agriculture economy and merited recognition with the governor’s designation of May as the state’s beef month.

Before sitting down at a table placed in the pasture to sign the honorary decree, Kelly said she took comfort in the preservation of such large swaths of sustainable bluestem and other grasses that give the Flint Hills color, texture and economic muscle. The nutritious grass growing out of the rocky ground — mostly unsuitable for crops — is consumed each year by more than 1 million cattle grazing hills of central Kansas.

“I can’t imagine a more fitting way to celebrate than right here in the heart of a flourishing cattle ranch, looking out over the pasture, which is absolutely stunning,” Kelly said.

Gov. Laura Kelly signed a proclamation designating May as beef month in Kansas during a visit to the grassland ranch operated by Jan Lyons and her family south of Manhattan. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kelly, a Democrat seeking re-election in 2022, said the rural economy in Kansas was propelled by farmers growing hay and grains consumed by livestock, the cattle ranchers who raised livestock, and large and small processors delivering meat products to consumers.

The beef industry contributed nearly $13 billion annually to the state’s economy, she said, and the industry exported $1.7 billion in beef products annually.

“Kansas is recognized across the nation and the world for raising healthy cattle and producing high-quality, nutritious beef,” the governor said. “Family operations like the Lyons Ranch are the standard in Kansas agriculture. Eight-five percent of the farms and ranches in Kansas are family owned. I will continue to work for policies that help our Kansas farm families across every county in the state.”

She said she was committed to funding highway projects necessary to efficiently move livestock and products through the food chain, expansion of broadband services to promote commercial opportunities and meet demands of precision farming, and provide emergency assistance during disasters such as wildfires and tornadoes.

Mike Beam, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said appreciation for the value of native grasslands and the role cattle played in maintaining that resources were growing. At the same time, he said, the beef industry was challenged by rising costs of fuel and feed as well as broader supply-chain issues.

The lack of rain in some areas of the state, especially southwest Kansas, remained a concern for producers who needed moisture to generate grasses required by cattle herds, he said.

“What do I worry about? Are we in a 2012 drought?” Beam said. “If that is the case, these pastures are not going to hold up. That’s a wild card.”

Angus cattle rancher Jan Lyons, the first woman president of the Kansas Livestock Association, said she was proud of her multigenerational business because it was environmentally sustainable and produced high-quality beef.  (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Manhattan-area cattle rancher Jan Lyons, the first woman president of the Kansas Livestock Association, said she was proud of her multigenerational business because the Flint Hills operation was environmentally sustainable and produced high-quality livestock and beef. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Lyons, who has operated the multigenerational cattle ranch for decades, said her grassland vista was among potential targets of eminent domain in the 1980s by the US Army. The Department of Defense theorized another 100,000 acres of central Kansas property was needed to expand space for military training exercises at Fort Riley.

A political and economic coalition known as Preserve the Flint Hills was formed to push back against the Army’s proposal, she said. Area farmers and ranchers took part along with US Sens. Nancy Kassebaum and Robert Dole, and the Department of Defense eventually set the plan aside.

“It was good to join together,” Lyons said. “As I’ve learned over the years, that’s how we get things done.”

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