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Efficiency And Agriculture
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Before addressing efficiency in agriculture, congratulations are in order for all those students who graduated this past Friday night from Barton Community College. For many this accomplishment required much more than simply attending classes and studying. Colleges such as Barton serve a diverse student population. There really isn’t a typical profile for a Barton student. Many balance work, family, and other responsibilities with academics. Congratulations to them and all the area graduates from our high schools and other institutions of higher learning.
This column has addressed efficiency in agriculture before but with today’s political climate the topic is worth addressing again. All levels of government are seeking “efficiency” but what does efficiency mean? According to Merriam-Webster, efficiency is: effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with cost (as in energy, time, and money) or the ratio of the useful energy delivered by a dynamic system to the energy supplied to it. Other definitions are similar. Please note the definition doesn’t say you necessarily decrease spending, or increase it for that matter, but that resources are used effectively. Efficient operations seek to minimize the waste of energy, time, and money. To achieve this efficiency it may in fact be necessary to invest more energy, time, and money. The second part of the definition implies this also. What energy do you receive for the energy you supply to the system?  
For crop and livestock producers dealing with lower commodity prices, the difference between making money, losing money, or for that matter staying in business, is increasing efficiency. They need to thoroughly understand how to maximize the benefits of all their inputs to optimize production. This may actually mean investing money in a variety of areas, not cutting back. It means using inputs needed in a manner as to not use more or less than needed for the production goal. A feat not always easy in production agriculture.
However, the main point of this article is the investment by all levels of government – county, state, and federal, in the infrastructure that provides education, research, and outreach for agricultural and rural communities. This includes land grant institutions such as K-State, including teaching, research, and extension; the Agricultural Research Service, local county and district extension offices; and institution such as Barton providing education for careers in agriculture. At a time when agriculture faces a myriad of challenges: feeding another two billion people in the next twenty or so years; pest pressures, water supplies and environmental quality; and perhaps most importantly adapting to climate change. It is inefficient and dangerous for us to cut these areas vital for the prosperity of the country.
Some argue that government is inefficient compared to the private sector and costs money. While efficiencies always can and should be found, please considers these numbers:
• The long-term benefit to cost ratio to agriculture from agriculture (think K-State) is 33.6:1 or 33.6 dollars are generated for every dollar spent on agricultural research. This translates into a 10.2 percent average annual rate of return to agricultural productivity or a long-term benefit of $5.5 billion to the state of Kansas. Seems pretty efficient.
• For Barton Community College during the 2012 – 2013 fiscal year, Barton Graduates added an estimated $82.4 million dollars of income to the college’s service area with a total impact of $94.1 million dollars. A Barton student’s annual return on investment in education is 14.3%. Again, this seems like a good example of efficiency.
This column isn’t meant to imply that K-State or Barton or any other institution of this type can’t always look to be more efficient. The point is that cutting funding to “save” money has the downside of not only decreasing efficiency in agricultural but actually causing the agricultural community to generate less income.