Monthly Archives: June 2014

Agricultural Economics Distinguished Alumnus in 3 part series of Kansas Profile feature

Steve Irsik

Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University, has written a 3 part series about Steve Irsik for the “Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural” features.  The three articles are listed below.

Steve Irsik was honored in 2008 as the Department of Agricultural Economics 2008 Distinguished Alumnus.  For more information about that honor, click here. We hope you will take a few moments to read these articles and learn more about one of our many Distinguished Alumni!

Steve Irsik – Part 1

Pioneers. They were the brave men and women who came west and settled the state of Kansas. Today we honor those pioneers, but we also honor the modern-day entrepreneurs who have pioneered modern approaches to agribusiness. One such entrepreneur has built a remarkable agribusiness enterprise in southwest Kansas.

Steve Irsik is an agricultural entrepreneur whose family has built a remarkable ag enterprise. His family has deep roots in western Kansas. In fact, it is a true story of pioneers.

“My grandmother came to Dodge City in 1880 on a stagecoach,” Steve Irsik said. It sounds like a western movie, but it’s true. The Irsik side of the family came west to Kansas in the 1920s. These pioneers settled in southwest Kansas and built homes and farms.

Steve Irsik’s father served in the south Pacific during World War II and came back to the farm. Steve was born and raised near Garden City. He went to K-State, studied agricultural economics, and served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era.

When Steve came back to join his family in the farming operation, the irrigation and feedlot industries were beginning to be developed. The Irsiks were pioneers in this type of agribusiness.

“My dad bought a farm which had the second irrigation well in western Kansas,” Steve said. “My father and two brothers started feeding cattle in 1961. That was just the second or third feedyard in southwest Kansas.”

Before that time, farmer-feeders had been raising a few head individually to be butchered or sold. Feedyards became a more efficient way to produce finished cattle. Then beef packing plants were built in western Kansas so as to be close to the source of production.  The agribusiness complex boomed.

The Irsik family was a leading part of the agribusiness growth. Their first feedyard built in 1961 had a capacity of 2,000 head. Today that feedyard’s capacity is 40,000 head.

Irsik Farms is now a dryland and irrigated farming and ranching operation with ranches in Kansas and Nebraska, including a 1,800 head cowherd. Irsik & Doll is a related business with feedyards and grain elevators across southwest Kansas. Irsik & Doll elevators are located in communities from Hutchinson to Sublette. The feedyards are in rural locations in southwest Kansas, near towns such as Garden City, Scott City, Cimarron, Hugoton, and Pierceville. Pierceville has a population of perhaps 300 people.  Now, that’s rural.

Part of the success of the Irsik family farming operation has been to integrate the various elements of the beef value chain.

“We go all the way from beef cattle genetic development clear to the meat cooler,” Steve said.

Steve was also part of pioneering initiatives to market agricultural products such as the 21st Century Alliance grain processing cooperative and U.S. Premium Beef. These farmer-investors bought a flour mill in Texas and an oat-milling company in Nebraska.  “If you ate granola, you probably ate some of our oats,” Steve said. “If you ate a tortilla in New Mexico or west Texas, the flour probably came from our flour mill.”

In the process of building these businesses, Steve got to know private equity investors in Dallas and elsewhere. He joined them in other investments such as a steel pipe company in Vermont, a food manufacturer in Massachusetts, and a wholesale vegetable distributor in Florida. The food manufacturing company, for example, produces products that are marketed under major brand names such as Hersheys and Nestle.

“These companies want to market their brand, but they don’t want to do the manufacturing,” Steve said. So, this company produces the powdered chocolate drink, but it is sold under the Hersheys brand. These are innovative ways of marketing.

Pioneers. Those brave men and women came west and built the state of Kansas. Now modern pioneers such as the Irsik family are leading the way in innovations of modern production agriculture. We commend Steve Irsik and family for making a difference as pioneers of today.

And there’s more. Steve Irsik was also a pioneer in another form of the cattle business – but not beef. We’ll learn about that next week.

Steve Irsik – Part 2

Beef. That’s the four-letter word which has been at the heart of a growing economy in southwest Kansas for decades, as beef cattle production and processing have expanded.  But now there’s another kind of cattle production going on in southwest Kansas that centers on a different four-letter word: Milk.

Last week we learned about Steve Irsik, the entrepreneurial agriculturist whose family has helped build the ag economy in southwest Kansas. For decades, their family operation has centered on the irrigated grain production and beef cattle feedyards which have been the hallmark of agriculture in southwest Kansas.

One day Steve and his banker were on an eastern Kansas agricultural tour which visited a modern dairy. Steve said to his banker, “Do you think I should have one of these?” His banker replied, “You bet.” Steve answered, “Well, call me if somebody comes along who can run one.” Six weeks later, Steve got a call. A man with large dairy experience in Washington State was coming to Kansas.

That led to the creation of Royal Farms Dairy in the year 2000. Today, Royal Farms Dairy milks 6,300 head of dairy cows. Another 7,000 head are in heifer development.

One of the striking things about Royal Farm Dairy is the innovative way that water and nutrients are used in the operation. For example, the dairy cattle generate 30,000 tons of manure per year. The dairy is using that manure as organic fertilizer to fertilize the crops.

“We don’t buy any commercial fertilizer,” Steve Irsik said. “It is a win-win situation.  Yields are increasing, organic matter is increasing in the soil, and we are cutting costs.”

Use of water is another innovative practice at Royal Farms Dairy. At the beginning, the dairy moved 1,000 acre feet of water allocation from crop production to dairy use.

The dairy minimizes water usage by using each gallon multiple times. Water that is used to cool milk is also used to flush pens and holding areas. Ultimately, this nutrient-enhanced water is then stored in a lagoon until it is used to strategically fertilize and irrigate 1,600 acres.

“All the lagoon water comes back to the farm,” Steve said. For its efforts, Royal Farms Dairy has been honored with the Kansas Banker’s Association Environmental Stewardship Award.

“We know a bunch of people in the dairy business around the U.S.,” Steve said. The Irsiks have also added a second dairy, called the Noble dairy, located south of Garden City. “There we are milking 2,400 cows twice a day.”

What are the keys to success in agribusiness today? “It’s really important for ag operations to think multigenerationally,” Steve said. The Irsiks have organized their operations as businesses with family members involved.
“You must keep your capital together, work together to develop a shared vision, and nurture and protect what preceding generations have built,” he said.

Over time, the beef and dairy production businesses in southwest Kansas have led to population growth, in contrast to the general population loss found in most of the rest of rural Kansas. After feedyards began in the 1950s and `60s, major beef packing plants were built in Ford, Finney and Seward counties. Then came large dairies and milk processing. From 1971 to 2007, the population in Ford, Finney and Seward County grew by 64 percent. During that same time, the metropolitan counties of Kansas grew by 48 percent and other rural counties fell by 19 percent.

That’s significant, because Royal Farms Dairy has brought growth to a rural community.  The dairy is located between Garden City and the rural community of Ingalls, population 331 people. Now, that’s rural.

Beef. It’s the four letter word which is at the center of the agribusiness complex in southwest Kansas, which has now been joined by milk. We salute Steve Irsik and all those involved with Royal Farms Dairy for making a difference by building this business while conserving water and resources. Beef and milk have helped create another four letter word: Grow.

And there’s more. The Irsiks have also helped bring about a new way of implementing an old organization. We’ll learn about that next week.

Steve Irsik – Part 3

“Prometo: Mi cabeza para pensar claramente, mi corazon para mayor lealtad, mis manos para mejor servicio…”  No, I don’t speak Spanish, but I have learned that those are the opening words of the 4-H pledge in Spanish. Today we’ll meet an innovative 4-H club which is helping extend the benefits of 4-H to a new dimension of Spanish-speaking families.

This is the last profile in our three-part series about Steve Irsik, an agricultural entrepreneur in southwest Kansas. We have previously learned about how his family developed their farming operation, including the creation of Royal Farms Dairy east of Garden City. Kyle Averhoff was brought in as manager. A key element to the success of such large, modern dairies is the workforce – many of whom are Hispanic.

In October 2012, Steve Irsik contacted Debra Bolton, the K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences specialist for the southwest area of Kansas.

“We were brainstorming how 4-H could reach more families,” Debra said. Specifically, they discussed how the benefits of 4-H could be applied to the newly immigrated families who had come to work in southwest Kansas.

“Royal Farms Dairy is home to over 14,000 cows and heifers and about 65 employees, many from El Salvador, Guatemala, and many other countries throughout Central America, South America and up through Mexico,” Kyle Averhoff said. “Southwest Kansas is an economic empire in how it’s developed and grown. Without the Hispanic culture and the culture of many other immigrant populations, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

K-State Research and Extension faculty in the southwest area developed a pilot program to reach out to this segment of the population. It was supported by state 4-H leader Barbara Stone and the Kansas 4-H Foundation. Bertha Mendoza is a nutrition specialist in the southwest area of Kansas, and her existing relationship with several Hispanic families was a major help.

These families and those of the workers at the dairies became a target for this innovative 4-H program. Alejandra Romero and Ruddy Yanez were hired as summer interns to assist with the project.

The goal was to create one club of 25 to 30 youth, but the interest grew faster than expected. The end result was four clubs involving 90 youth, with hundreds more on a waiting list. The clubs are located in Finney, Gray, and Kearney counties. These new 4-H members live in or near rural communities such as Garden City, Ingalls, Pierceville, and Deerfield, population 892 people. Now, that’s rural.

The 4-H organization has been around for a long time, but it was new to these immigrant families. Club meetings were implemented bilingually. For example, the 4-H pledge would be said in Spanish and then in English. The club involved youth, parents and even grandparents.

“The concept of 4-H caught on,” Debra Bolton said. “This 4-H club is more than youth development, it is family development. It’s family, it’s education, it’s learning, it’s all the things that integrate a family into a community.”

“They are very family focused,” Kyle Averhoff said of his working Hispanic families.  “We think that 4-H is a nice add-on to that, to help their children have opportunities to develop. We can look at countless stories of how our employees have grown and how their children have grown and become successful members of society.”

“It’s created such a great learning community,” Debra said. “It’s even received national recognition. The National 4-H wants one of our 4-Hers to sing at the national gala.”

“The more we can do for the children, that’s going to lift up the whole family,” Steve said. “It will truly lift up these families.”

“Mi salud para mayor bienestar, para mi club, mi comunidad, mi patria, mi mundo.”  Those are the closing words of the 4-H pledge in Spanish. We salute Steve Irsik, Kyle Averhoff, Barbara Stone, Debra Bolton, Bertha Mendoza, Alejandra Romero, Ruddy Yanez, and all those involved who are making a difference by helping more families experience the benefits of 4-H in a whole new way. I believe this is very good: Muy bueno.





Alumnus featured as Kansas Profile: Matt Wolters – Surefire Ag

June 4, 2014 – The population estimates are in. Census Bureau data show the most recent estimates of population change in Kansas counties, with a pattern of urban growth and rural population loss – except for a few counties which have bucked the trend. For example, the northernmost tier of counties in Kansas all demonstrated population loss, with one exception: Rawlins County. Why is this so? At least one source of the population growth in Rawlins County has been the advent of a private sector, entrepreneurial agribusiness enterprise.

Matt Wolters is a co-founder of Surefire Ag Systems in Rawlins County, the site of unexpected growth. Matt grew up here at Atwood, studied agricultural economics at K-State and came back to northwest Kansas. He went to work for another company but saw an opportunity in the fertilizer industry.

Matt contacted his brother Josh who had been an engineer with larger companies but was ready to leave the big corporate structure. They partnered with their friend Blaine Ginther. Their idea was to create a system of equipment that could attach to a farmer’s existing farm implements and be used to dispense liquid fertilizer.

The three went to work. They set out to create a company to produce such a product and found they had complementary skills. Josh Wolters is an engineer and Blaine Ginther had worked in management and sales, while Matt specialized in operations and strategic management.

The three entrepreneurs launched a company known as Surefire Ag Systems. The purpose of the company was to deliver customized equipment for application of crop inputs. They began the business in August 2007 on a farmstead north of their hometown of Atwood.

“The foundation of our business is configuring a package of components to make a system that attaches to existing equipment to apply liquid fertilizer, chemicals, or herbicides,” Matt said.

For example, adding their system to a corn planter makes it possible to apply fertilizer also. “Our system can be customized to each specific piece of equipment,” Matt said.

Surefire Ag got started at the time that GPS guidance and tractor autosteer systems were really growing in popularity. Being able to integrate the Surefire Ag systems with those technologies was a key to success. Surefire Ag experienced significant growth and continued to innovate.

“By God’s guiding hand, we hired our first electrical engineer in 2011,” Matt said. This highly-trained engineer, originally from Hoxie, happened to be moving back to the area when he and his wife decided they wanted to raise their kids here. He joined SureFire and his skills enabled the company to do more product development. SureFire Electronics was launched in 2012 and SureFire’s QuickDraw system was introduced in 2013. QuickDraw is an automated, electronically controlled spray tender system which automates batch mixing of crop inputs. The company continues to grow.

“One of our objectives is to be an economic engine for Rawlins County,” Matt said. The company now employs 35 people and has sold products to 47 states, six Canadian provinces and beyond. Such market breadth is remarkable for a young company from rural Atwood, population 1,258 people. Now, that’s rural.

In addition to generating employment, the company created the Dream Big Education Foundation to support Rawlins County schools. SureFire made a $100,000 donation which has been used to put smart boards and iPad carts in the grade schools and significantly upgrade the information technology infrastructure in the high school.

“Our people are our greatest asset,” Matt said. “We’ve been blessed with the most dedicated, committed group of people who have come together to make it happen. They grew up with a work ethic and the moral compass to take care of people.”

For more information about the company, go to

The population estimates are in. Of all the northern tier of counties in Kansas, the only one to experience population gain is Rawlins County, home of SureFire Ag Systems. We salute Matt Wolters, Josh and Lisa Wolters, Blaine and Erin Ginther and all those involved with SureFire Ag for making a difference with agricultural entrepreneurship and dedicated effort. In rural Kansas, hard work is the only surefire solution.

Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit


Written by: Ron Wilson

Agricultural exports reach record high; K-State agricultural economist explains pros and cons

The U.S. is expected to export a record amount of food this year, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

June 9, 2014 – “We continue to export more both in pounds and dollar amount,” said Glynn Tonsor, a Kansas State University associate professor of agricultural economics.

The USDA predicts the U.S. will export almost $150 billion worth of fruits, vegetables, grains and meat in 2014. Tonsor says the increase in exports is because of both economic growth and population growth in other countries.

“Economic growth outside the U.S. continues to be fairly strong,” Tonsor said. “Couple that with population growth, it means there is more demand for the food products the U.S. produces and that they are essentially being bid out of the U.S. into other consumers’ hands.”

Tonsor says this is good news for domestic agricultural producers, who are now making more money on their products because of the increased demand. While it may hit the pocketbooks of U.S. consumers, who likely will have to pay more for these products, it does provide better trade deals.

“Typically when you export something, you import something in return, which could be rubber product, electronics, etc.,” Tonsor said. “Trade enables us to focus on things that we’re good at and allows all consumers to collectively be better off.”

The volume of agricultural exports is expected to increase 31 percent from 2013 to 2014. Tonsor says this a trend that is likely to continue.

K-State News and Editorial Services

Written by | Lindsey Elliot |

Déjà Vu for Agricultural Economics student Devin Dick

Devin Dick and Reinis Kregers did something no teammates have ever done in K-State history. The decathlete duo finished first and second, respectively, in the multi-event, becoming the first teammates to finish 1-2 in the conference championship heptathlon and decathlon in the same season since Big 12 track started in 1997.

Head coach Cliff Rovelto said all three athletes, including freshman Adam Deterding, who placed sixth, excelled in the multi-event.

“They all did very well.” Rovelto said. “They all had good days yesterday and they all had probably even better days today, comparatively speaking.”

Both Dick and Kregers picked up right from where they left off the day before, trading first-place finishes throughout the final five events. Dick opened competition setting a personal best time of 14.75 seconds and taking first in the 110 meter hurdles. Kregers followed his teammate’s performance with a first-place finish of his own in the discus. In the ensuing pole vault, Dick set a personal outdoor best, clearing the bar at 4.79m/15-08.50 to tie for first. The decathlon’s penultimate event, the javelin, saw Kregers respond with a monster personal best throw of 60.70m/199-02, defeating the field by well over seven meters.

Neither Dick nor Kregers let up in the concluding 1500m either, with each athlete securing first and second, respectively. The former, in particular, left no doubt taking second in a personal best time of 4:32.07. It marked the first decathlon Big 12 title of Dick’s career, as his final point total of 7,792 shattered his previous best of 7,425 points and moved him to fourth all-time in K-State history. The Hutchinson, Kan., native became only the second K-State multi-athlete to win the heptathlon and decathlon in the same season joining Moritz Cleve, who accomplished the feat in 2009.

In all, the senior All-American finished the decathlon with five first-place finishes and top-three performances in eight of the decathlon’s 10 events. Dick registered eight total personal bests and six K-State top-10 decathlon marks as well in a dominant performance that saw him not relinquish first-place after the decathlon’s second event.

Rovelto had nothing but praise for the senior’s performance.

“Devin, he really had a great meet,” Rovelto said. “When you factor in a lot of the winds were swirling winds, any way you slice it, he had a hell of a decathlon, he really did.”

In particular, Rovelto noted Dick’s closing performance in the 1500 meter.

“The 1500 was a huge PR, if he would have done that at sea level it would have been a huge PR, but doing that at altitude is really, really good. He always tries, and sometimes he tries too hard and that gets him in trouble, but he always tries, I was proud that he hung in there in the discus and he did a nice job in the javelin and the pole vault, but the 1500 was just awesome.”

For Kregers, it marked the second-straight season he finished second in the decathlon, with his final tally of 7,618 points easily besting his previous high of 7,343 and moving him to eighth-best in school history. The sophomore’s PR in the javelin was also the No. 5 mark in K-State decathlon history.

Only a sophomore, Rovelto said Kreger’s early career success bodes well for his future.

“Reinis really had a great meet,” Rovelto said. “The thing for [Reinis] is he is just a sophomore, a true sophomore. You go through our history, obviously we’ve had a lot of good decathletes, and the only guys who have scored that high or higher in their sophomore years are guys that were ultimately Olympians, or World Championship-type athletes. So that’s a really good score for a sophomore.”

Competing alongside Dick and Kregers for the Wildcats was Deterding. The freshman chipped in another three points for the men’s team with a sixth-place finish. Deterding’s second day effort was highlighted by a third-place performance in the 110m hurdles that saw him run a season-best non-wind-aided time of 15.21 seconds. The Wildcat decathletes, as a whole, combined for 21 points.

Rovelto praised the freshman’s performance in his first career decathlon.

“Adam had a great meet,” Rovelto said. “Granted he’s a newbie, but he still did a nice job. He had some really significant marks for him so he did some nice things.”

By: K-State Sports

Two students from Department of Agricultural Economics awarded KLF Youth in Agriculture scholarships

The Kansas Livestock Foundation has awarded 10 “Youth in Agriculture” scholarships to students from across the state for the 2014-15 school year. Funded by proceeds from the club calf sale held during the Kansas Junior Livestock Show, these $1,000 scholarships are presented each year to students entering or returning to a Kansas junior or senior college and pursuing a degree in agriculture or a related field. Six of the recipients will be attending Kansas State University in the fall.

Two students from Department of Agricultural Economics awarded KLF Youth in Agriculture scholarships.  Arissa Moyer is the daughter of Jaret and Shawna Moyer from Emporia. She will be a junior this fall and is majoring in agribusiness. Catherine Sharp, daughter of Craig and Sussie Sharp from Humboldt, will be a sophomore majoring in agriculture economics.

Kansas Land Values Webinar by Mykel Taylor available

A Webinar by Mykel Taylor regarding Kansas Land Values is now available online.
Mykel Taylor
Webinar recording is available HERE.
Click HERE to view the paper on which this is based.

Rich Llewelyn:
Mykel Taylor is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University.