From Kansas - The State Of Unexpected

Serious Business

Beef bolsters a muscular agriculture industry.

Agriculture and Food Processing
More than 10% of America’s beef comes from Kansas.
Photo by Jacqueline Nix/Getty Images

by Gary Daughters

or generations, agriculture has been one of the largest industries, economic drivers and employers in Kansas. The Kansas Department of Agriculture, in its annual survey released in August, reported that 72 agriculture and agriculture-related sectors directly contribute $57 billion in output and 140,055 jobs to the Kansas economy. Including indirect and induced effects, the report states, agriculture and agriculture-related sectors have a total impact of $81.2 billion in output, 253,614 jobs and 14% of the total Gross Regional Product (GRP).

Kansas consistently ranks at or near the top for production of wheat and sorghum and is a top 10 producer of corn. The dairy sector, with more than 250 dairy farms, is rapidly expanding. But in Kansas, beef is king. It’s the state’s single largest agricultural sector, accounting for close to half of all agricultural cash receipts. 

In August, Governor Laura Kelly announced that agricultural exports reached $5.5 billion in 2022, the state’s highest export total in decades. As a measure of the sector’s growth, agricultural exports from Kansas totaled $3.8 billion in 2019. At $2.1 billion, red meat again led the way, accounting for nearly 40% of agricultural exports. Cereals, including wheat, sorghum and corn, were second, followed by oil seeds, primarily soybeans. The top three destinations for Kansas food products were Mexico, Japan and Canada.



KSU’s Global Center for Food and Grain Innovation.

Rendering courtesy of Kansas State University


“We are shattering records to grow our economy and strengthen our ag industry,” Governor Kelly said in a statement, adding that her administration is “building relationships with international trading partners to ensure Kansas farmers and ranchers can continue to feed the world.”

Originally named Kansas State Agricultural College, Kansas State University was ranked No. 6 in the country by in its annual survey of Best Colleges for Agricultural Sciences, released in September. KSU recently broke ground on a new Agronomy Research and Innovation Center, marking the official kickoff of more than $125 million in agricultural infrastructure improvements planned through 2026. Planned projects also include a Global Center for Food and Grain Innovation.

Pampering Pets

More than 100 million dogs and cats warm the homes of America, and Kansas is doing more than its share to keep them fat and happy. Among producers of pet food, Kansas ranks only behind its neighbor Missouri as tops in the nation in an industry whose sales exceeded $100 billion in 2022. According to a report released in July by the American Feed Industry Association, Kansas produced pet food revenues of $10.5 billion in 2022, also ranking second among states for value added ($4.3 billion), jobs (27,358) and labor income ($1.93 billion).


“We will continue investing in our science, innovation and manufacturing hubs in Topeka.”

— John Hazlin, President and CEO, Hill’s Pet Nutrition


Hill’s Pet Nutrition, which is moving its headquarters from Topeka to the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, is the nation’s third-largest pet food producer. In October, the company cut the ribbon on a $425 million production facility that’s bringing more than 100 jobs to the city of Tonganoxie in Leavenworth County. Producing 170 varieties of wet food, it’s one of the most advanced pet food plants in the world, complete with autonomous robots that shuttle ingredients and other advanced technologies.

“To ensure food safety and quality to Hill’s exacting standards, the plant is using artificial intelligence to power a digital food safety vigilance system,” said Chad Sharp, the plant’s director of manufacturing. “It will work alongside Hill’s staff and a new state-of-the-art Mission Control Center that provides us with unprecedented visibility and monitoring through every aspect of pet food making, from ingredient intake to final packaging.”

Overland Park’s burgeoning Aspiria Campus, a 207-acre master planned complex being developed by Wichita-based Occidental Management, is home to the pet food maker’s new $34 million headquarters.
Hill’s is retaining its presence in Topeka, which includes a sprawling Pet Nutrition Center and the Small Paws Innovation Center, a $30 million facility that opened in 2021. The company also has a production center in Emporia.

“We will continue investing in our science, innovation and manufacturing hubs in Topeka — while expanding our footprint with the creation of a new hub for our Global and U.S. headquarters in the Greater Kansas City area,” said John Hazlin, president and CEO of Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “This marks an important step in our global growth as we work to meet the growing demand for our science-led pet nutrition.”


Among its numerous agricultural sectors, beef production and processing stand out as cornerstones of Kansas agriculture. With vast expanses of fertile land, a favorable climate and a tradition of ranching, Kansas has long been a leading force in the beef industry. Beef cattle ranches and farms yielded an economic output of $10 billion in 2022, according to a report by the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Beef processing counts for even more; a little more than 10% of the nation’s processed beef comes from Kansas.

In June, Walmart announced plans to locate the company’s first fully owned and operated “case-ready” beef plant in the Kansas City area. The $257 million facility is to create 667 new jobs in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe. Construction of the plant, scheduled for operation in 2025, is expected to employ another 1,000 workers.

The new Walmart plant will take big cuts of beef from company-owned slaughterhouses and package sale-ready steaks, essentially doing the work traditionally handled by grocery store butchers. The closed-loop process will help drive Walmart toward its goal to create an end-to-end supply chain for Angus beef, “ensuring our customers have access to the high-quality meats they expect at the everyday low prices they rely on,” said Senior Vice President of Deli, Meat and Seafood David Baskin.

“This is such great news,” Olathe Mayor John Bacon said of Walmart’s plans. “We’re thrilled that Walmart chose Olathe for its innovative facility. This huge capital investment will help create more jobs that will greatly benefit the City of Olathe and our entire region.”  

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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