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Wichita Eagle, October 22, 2006. Written by Phyllis Griekspoor

As the first chairman f the new Agribusiness Council of Wichita, Curtis Wiltse knows he has work to do.
But as a professional in the agribusiness industry who grew up farming and ranching, he’s excited about the opportunity to promote agriculture in Sedgwick County.
The council recently became a partner in Visioneering Wichita, a move that Wiltse thinks will enable members to set goals and encourage economic development and growth in agriculture and ag processing in the Wichita area.
Wiltse said he also hopes to establish opportunities to educate business and government leaders and the public about the importance of the food and fiber industry and related businesses in south-central Kansas.
Wiltse, 37, is married and has two sons, ages 4 and 1. He grew up on a farm west of Great Bend, where his father and brother still farm.

There’s a perception that Sedgwick County is urban. Is this true?
“Not at all. Agriculture is a huge industry in Sedgwick County and even more important in the south-central Kansas region. Aside from actual farm production, we have a big agribusiness presence with companies like Cargill Meat Solutions.
“One of the council’s main goals is to commission an economic impact study for agribusiness in Wichita and the region.”

What is the council trying to accomplish?
“We want to raise awareness of the importance of agriculture. But more important, we want to establish a vision of how we want the industry to grow and what sorts of new businesses could spring from our existing agricultural base.
“We believe that an organization to bring together people with a common interest in the future of the industry and joining with other leaders who are trying to build a vision for the future of Wichita will enable us to do that.”

In your opinion, what are some of the growth opportunities?
“Certainly, biofuels – ethanol, biodiesel, wind energy – are big on that list. So are other bioscience businesses, biotech seed, animal and plant science research.
“We are at a crossroads when it comes to the future of agriculture in the region. We can do nothing and lose what we have, or we can move forward and be part of making changes that will create a bigger, more vibrant industry. As a council, we want to move forward.”

What do you see as a first step?
“I think the Visioneering component is key, along with an economic impact study to help us determine where we are now and identify where we want to go. Then we need to identify our audience and move forward with an educational program that will bring the right information to the right people.
“I don’t think that necessarily means trying to teach everybody in the urban area the details on how farming is done. What they need to know is how to make informed decisions about supporting a safe food and fiber supply and the people who provide it.
“It’s very exciting to be working with other Visioneering groups and the chamber. I think that will enable us to get fresh ideas.”

What do you see down the road for agriculture in Sedgwick County and south-central Kansas?
“I think technology is going to make a huge difference in the future, just as it has in the past. My family farm is a no-till operation, for example, and that has enabled my family to reduce input costs and improve profitability. Technology such as GPS-guided fertilizer and chemical application systems are making a big difference.
“In the future, I think we’ll see the opportunity to make more products and different products from agricultural crops.”

Reach P.J. Griekspoor at 316-268-6660 or at pgriekspoor@wichitaeagle.com.