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Seems like nearly everyone is trying to define the family farm. While this isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s certainly one that bears consideration – especially as population numbers in our rural communities and regions of Kansas continue to decline.

   Based on these downward demographic trends, agriculture as a family farm system is best suited to compete and move forward equipped with the following attributes.

   First, the family farm system should include owner operation. Within such an arrangement, the rights and responsibilities of farm, ranch and land ownership are vested in an entrepreneur who works the farm for a living, to make a profit and to literally, grow the business.

   Second, independence is a cornerstone of today’s family farming operation in the Sunflower State. This includes financing from within its own resources using family labor and management to build the sweat equity and cash flow. This in turn will allow for retirement of mortgages, preferably during the lifetime of the head of the household.

Economic dispersion, where large numbers of efficient-sized farms operate with equal access to competitive markets is another vital component. While all of these elements are equally important today, opening new windows in other parts of the world must be a continuing goal if agriculture is to expand and remain viable.

   The fourth key ingredient of today’s farm and ranch community is family centered – an element that has always been at the heart of this rural profession. Family farms have always, and must always, live in harmony with the workplace. Here, responsibilities are divvied up and shared by all family members and children learn the work of their parents.

   A commercially diversified operation is another essential ingredient for today’s agriculture to remain successful. It does so by reducing commodity price risks while maximizing the use of farm resources. This element can provide a greater measure of self-sufficiency.      

   And finally, no business, especially farming and ranching, can survive without innovation and adoption of new technology to enhance productivity and the use of scarce labor.

   Family farming carries with it a commitment to certain values, entirely independent of the factors impacting economics. These values, in turn, are imparted to the communities and to society as a whole. Included in such contributions are conservation, frugality, responsibility, modesty, honesty, dignity in work, belief in community, caring for future generations, neighborliness and self-reliance.

   While one particular family farm may not fulfill all of these contributions, together farm families have created a system of agriculture that built a strong rural economy and a secure rural culture – a system now being threatened with extinction.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.