Yesterday, I hosted my 13th Annual Kansas Conservation Tour with stops in Neosho, Labette, Cherokee and Crawford counties. The Conservation Tour is an opportunity for me to learn more about conservation efforts across the state, including water and soil conservation, river sustainability, and wetlands and grassland prairie preservation efforts, as well to discuss irrigation practices and other important agricultural issues for producers. During the tour, I met with an impressive group of farmers and representatives from our state’s agricultural and natural resource associations.

Hosting this tour on the week of Thanksgiving is appropriate, as it embodies the values of the holiday: being thankful for the resources our state has been blessed, and preserving and protecting what we have been given is critical to the future of Kansas.

Stop #1: Along the Neosho River

The first stop of my Kansas Conservation Tour was at the Lil’ Toledo Lodge, along the Neosho River near Chanute. During this stop, the The Nature Conservancy discussed the Sustainable Rivers Program (SRP), a project done in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Headquarters. The SRP focuses on preserving river flow, while balancing the needs of water consumption with the ecological considerations of the river. We also discussed the Nature Conservancy's Healthy Streams Initiative and the work in the state related to that program.

Neosho River

Stop #2: The Parson Arboretum

The second stop of my Kansas Conservation Tour took us to the Parsons Arboretum. We were joined by the Kansas Forest Service to discuss community forestry efforts across the state that assist municipalities with tree planting and proper tree management in cities. We also received updates on their fire management programs that provide fire-fighting resources and equipment to fire departments in rural areas. With a number of devastating wildfires across the state in recent years, this program is of special importance to our Kansas farmers and ranchers.

Stop #3: Wetlands and Grasslands Preservation Site near Chetopa

Following our session in Parsons, the tour headed to a wetland and native tallgrass prairie area near Chetopa where the group was briefed on the Natural Resources Damages Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) program. NRDAR is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism aimed at restoring the wetland and grassland areas that were previously contaminated by decades of lead and zinc mining. We heard from stakeholders in the project, including Ducks Unlimited, who is a private partner of NRDAR.

Lunch at Rowdy's Rustic Moose Lodge

Over lunch, we heard from the Kansas Soybean Association, Kansas Corn Growers Association, Kansas Wheat Growers Association, and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association about conservation topics pertaining to their interest areas. During my remarks to the group, I discussed the history, purpose and importance of my Kansas Conservation Tour, and gave updates on work I’m doing in Washington pertinent to the group and their collective conservation efforts.

Stop #4: The Alan Ebgert Family Farm

At the Egbert’s farm near McCune, we saw an irrigation pond and terraces that were installed by these fifth-generation farmers with cost-sharing assistance provided by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and technical assistance from NRCS – the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Stop #5: Misty Mornings Farm

For the last stop on my Kansas Conservation Tour, we visited Misty Mornings Farm near Mulberry to hear from the farm owner, Misty, and her husband, Charlie. They showed the group their high tunnels that provide a unique opportunity to extend the growing seasons for their crops while using fewer resources.
One thing that was clear during the Tour is that a strong Farm Bill conservation title is vital to Kansas. I would like to send a special thanks to State Conservationist Karen Woodrich, State FSA Director David Schemm, State Forester Larry Biles, and all those who participated and for sharing their experiences, farms, land and best practices with us.