Location, Location, Location! Eastern Kansas boasts close proximity to Kansas City, which comes with several distinct advantages, including a major airport, more shopping and dining options, and closer access to a wider variety of jobs.
A notable benefit you should note as you evaluate Eastern Kansas against the rest of the state is that the eastern part of the state enjoys the most rainfall. Farms in this region tend to be smaller and more numerous than further west in Kansas, and there is a bit more variation in the terrain compared to further west.
The agricultural land here is composed of two major regions and three small ones. The northeastern region of Kansas is called the Glaciated Region. In southeastern Kansas, most of the land is a type called Osage Cuestas, interrupted briefly by a small fingerlike projection of the Chautauqua Hills, a narrow band of Cherokee Lowlands that crosses through four counties in the southeast corner of the state, and a tiny corner of Ozark Plateau land in the extreme southeast corner of the state.
Let’s look briefly at each of these regions in turn.
In the Glaciated Region of Kansas, ancient glaciers scoured the landscape, leaving large boulders scattered throughout the region (1). The Glaciated Region covers 10 counties and parts of 6 more. In this region, agricultural production numbers are strong in corn, soybeans, hay, sheep, hogs, and more. Here are a few additional examples from the 2017 Census of Agriculture (2).
- Nemaha County had the most hogs and pigs in inventory, number sold, and dollars.
- Nemaha also had strong soybean numbers, with the highest amount in the state in 2012.
- Marshall County had the most farms growing soybeans.
- Brown County produced the most bushels of soybeans and dollars in income from soybeans.
- Jefferson county had the most Christmas tree farms.
- Even Leavenworth county (not renowned for its agriculture, as it is an urban county in the Kansas City Metropolitan area) made the list, with the most berry farms in the state.
“Cuestas” is a Spanish word that means “hills” or “cliffs.” The Osage Cuestas region runs from the center to the south of Eastern Kansas and is characterized by hills that have a gentle slope on one side and a steep dropoff up to 200 feet high on the other side (3). There is a higher concentration of small farms and lower agricultural incomes in Osage Cuestas counties than further west in the state. Strong yields in this region came from soybeans, berries, and orchards, with more than three-fourths of the orchard land in the state located in the Osage Cuestas. These examples from the 2017 Survey of Agriculture give a glimpse of the range and diversity of agricultural activities that are possible in this part of the state.
- Douglas County:had the most vegetable farms in the state, the most income from fruits, tree nuts, and berries, and the most nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod farms.
- Miami county had the most 10-49 acre farms in the state, the most farms with beef cows, the most farms with chickens, the most farms with forage land, the most farms with orchards, and the most fruit and tree nut farms.
- Johnson County had the most income in the state from nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod (primarily due to the urban population of Kansas City).
The Chautauqua Hills region in the southeast of Kansas averages just 10 miles wide and consists of rocky outcrops and sandstone-topped hills (4). This region is generally better for pasture than for crops. Chautauqua county, which has the highest amount of Chautauqua Hills land, had the least amount of cropland in the state (not counting Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, which largely consist of the Kansas City metropolitan area). Chautauqua county also had the third-lowest Market Value of Agricultural Goods sold (as an average per acre of farmland in the county), after Ness and Russell counties.
While agriculture may be comparatively more challenging in this region than in other parts of Kansas, it is certainly not impossible, as reflected in the fact that the Market Value of Agricultural Goods Sold in Chautauqua county alone was more than $31 million in 2017. This puts this county ahead of 18 counties in Wyoming and 13 Nebraska counties (adjusted proportionally to match the same amount of acres). In other words, one of the weakest counties in Kansas still outperforms even 13 counties in its agricultural powerhouse neighbor to the north.
The Cherokee Lowlands is a fertile, mostly flat area of approximately 1,000 square miles in the southeast corner of Kansas that was extensively strip-mined for coal (5), with strong yields in both crops (corn, wheat, and sorghum) and livestock (especially cattle). Labette County, for instance, had the most farms with cattle and calves in the state, as well as the most income in the state from sales of horses, ponies, mules, burros, and donkeys.
The Ozark Plateau region occupies only a 35-square-mile corner of a single county in southeast Kansas, Cherokee County (1). This region enjoys the highest annual rainfall in the state, at 40 inches per year, and is a lush, tree-covered area in contrast to much of the rest of Kansas.
Cherokee County is a strong region for growing corn, wheat, and sorghum. It also features the most acres of land in orchards in the state, as well as the highest income in the state for the sale of fruits, tree nuts, poultry, and eggs.
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