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Kansas Department of Agriculture

The nation's first department of agriculture traces its roots back to 1855. It was during the meeting of the first territorial legislature that an agricultural committee was formed, and laws were passed to protect and aid farmers in Kansas Territory. The laws dealt with claims, strays, hedging on roads, weights and measurements, and horse stealing.

Two years later a printed notice asked Kansas farmers to attend an open air meeting in Topeka, to form the Kansas Agriculture Society. The group worked to promote agriculture even before Kansas achieved statehood. The society kept records and gave reports on agricultural production in Kansas.

Records of this earliest society are sparse. By a quirk of fate the group's records were placed for safekeeping with the Kansas Historical Society in Lawrence. When a fiery rebel named Quantrill raided the town, he burned the Society's records along with a large part of Lawrence.

After Kansas achieved statehood, many counties agreed with the idea of an agricultural society. Agriculture on the plains required new techniques and ever improving ideas for production. The counties formed their own societies, the main function of which was to host a county fair. These fairs were a way for farmers to exchange new farming ideas with their neighbors, acknowledge successes, and provide entertainment.

The flaw of these independent societies is that they failed to communicate with each other. It was decided that a state organization must be created, and the Kansas State Agricultural Society was formed by the Kansas Legislature on March 5, 1862. This state society collected information from all counties and distributed it, ensuring that all across Kansas shared ideas. The society also provided funding to explore what new crops might be introduced to Kansas farming, and how best to raise them.

Other states became interested in the structure created in Kansas and began to create agricultural societies of their own. In 1862 the federal government created an agricultural department to protect farmers and connect the various state societies.

While the Kansas society was successful in many ways, it often suffered from lack of financial support. The society asked for aid from the state government, but as it was not a state agency, little help was offered. In 1872 the Kansas Legislature created the State Board of Agriculture from the structure of the Agriculture Society. As a state agency the board could accomplish more, and be connected to the larger federal system.

The board's early years were spent organizing a state fair and acting as an immigration agency to attract needed settlers to homestead in Kansas. Farms and towns emerged on the fertile plains of the future wheat state. The Board of Agriculture, through an annual report and various publications about Kansas, served as a source of information and new techniques in farming.

Through grasshopper plagues, droughts, and blizzards, and through the invention of barbed wire, the development of combines, and advances undreamed in 1872, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has served the producers and consumers of Kansas agricultural products.

Entry: Kansas Department of Agriculture

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.