THE WICHITA EAGLE
When you check the employment numbers for agribusiness in Sedgwick County or south-central Kansas, it looks like a small industry.
But those numbers are misleading, said Janet Harrah, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.
"It's hard to get a feel for the impact of agribusiness because agriculture employment is so narrowly defined," Harrah said. "But when you start looking at all the types of industry that relate directly to agriculture, you realize that this is a huge industry with even greater potential."
Harrah is engaged in an effort to summarize the current and future economic impact of agribusiness on the local economy and will present her findings in the final session of Bio/Nxt, a conference sponsored by the Agri-Business Council of Wichita set for Wednesday and Thursday at the Airport Hilton.
Harrah will speak at 5 p.m. next Thursday and said her preliminary research has been to try to categorize the various segments that relate to agribusiness in the region.
Agribusiness goes well beyond the thousands of family farms in south-central Kansas to encompass food processing companies such as Cargill, Farmland, Dold Foods and Horizon Milling as well as agriculture equipment manufacturing such as Agco in Hesston and CNH in Wichita.
"We have well over 30,000 people working in food manufacturing alone in Kansas," Harrah said. "And there are dozens of other areas not so easy to categorize. How do you classify veterinarians, for example? You have large animal vets who take care of cattle and horses as well as vets whose practice is primarily family pets like cats and dogs."
The future of the industry in south-central Kansas will include the ethanol industry, advanced materials research and emerging bioindustrial product development, said James Mock, president of the Agri-Business Council.
The program of the Bio/Nxt Conference will reflect those trends, with panels examining biofuels, bioindustrial products, human health and agriculture and animal health and nutrition.
The conference will open with a cocktail reception and dinner on Wednesday evening followed by a full day of presentations on Thursday.
Presenters will include Scott Deeter, president and chief executive of Ventria Bioscience; Jim Millis, director of the biotechnology development center for Cargill; Adrian Polansky, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture; Daniel Richardson, chief animal welfare veterinarian for Hills Pet Nutrition; Tom Thornton, president and chief executive of the Kansas Bioscience Authority; and Dave Vander Griend, president and chief executive of ICM.
"We hope that this conference will offer businesses and entrepreneurs a chance to learn about what's going on in this industry and discover how to get in on the ground floor," Mock said.