Top ag-producing Kansas counties overlay the Ogallala Aquifer

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Of the 105 total counties in Kansas, the top eight counties for market value of agricultural products sold border one another. Coincidence or commonality?

According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, those top eight Kansas counties for agricultural production are located in western Kansas. The counties Scott, Haskell, Finney, Gray, Grant, Ford, Wichita and Seward together sold more than $4.7 billion in crops and livestock. The eight-county contribution represents about one-third of total agricultural revenue for the entire state of Kansas.

Ernie Minton, K-State Research and Extension associate director for research and technology transfer, said one very important thing that ties all of these counties together is a vast water resource the Ogallala Aquifer. The aquifer, which encompasses more than 170,000 square miles, supports both crop and livestock production not only in western Kansas but also in the seven other states it touches, from South Dakota to Texas.

David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University, and a team of researchers recently completed a study that examined the future of the Ogallala Aquifer. The study found that if current usage of the aquifer continues, as much as 69 percent of the aquifer would be depleted by 2060.

Usage is exceeding the recharge of the aquifer, which has led to its depletion. This is a concern for farmers and ranchers and could also be a major factor in the viability of the Kansas economy. Irrigated corn and beef cattle are two major economic drivers in western Kansas, including those top eight counties.

"The scenario is that irrigation drives corn production that is either directly fed to feedlot cattle or run through ethanol plants, then distillers grains fed to cattle," Minton said. "Together, between cattle and crop production, this represents a significant amount of economic activity in the state that could be at risk if the aquifer can no longer support irrigation."

K-State recognizes the importance of agriculture in the state of Kansas, which is why the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension are committed to production agriculture and ensuring it remains resilient and commercially viable. This commitment is expressed in the recently completed K-State 2025 strategic plan ( for the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension.

Among the many goals included in the plan is the goal of addressing grand challenges in dryland agriculture, which are of particular interest in western Kansas.

"That particular goal in our strategic plan is really about providing growers in western Kansas with cropping alternatives for dryland or limited irrigation scenarios that will help us prolong the lifespan of the aquifer," said John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension.

A breakdown of agricultural market value for each of those top eight ag-producing counties is as follows:

•     Scott: $72 million for crops; $691 million for livestock; $763 million total

•     Haskell: $116 million for crops; $602 million for livestock; $718 million total

•     Finney: $141 million for crops; $553 million for livestock; $694 million total

•     Gray: $109 million for crops; $582 million for livestock; $691 million total

•     Grant: $64 million for crops; $513 for livestock; $577 million total

•     Ford: $87 million for crops; $387 million for livestock; $474 million total

•     Wichita: no specific crop and livestock totals available; $449 million total

•     Seward: $82 million for crops; $280 million for livestock; $362 million total

The 2007 agricultural census information ( is the most recent data available. The U.S. Census of Agriculture is taken every five years, and the 2012 data should be available in early 2014.

For more information about the Ogallala Aquifer depletion study led by Steward, a video is available on the K-State Research and Extension YouTube channel (