Western Kansas is dominated by High Plains land with a narrow band of Arkansas River Lowlands that follows the course of the Arkansas River. Western Kansas, despite having less annual rainfall than Eastern Kansas, is an extremely productive area of the state, with rich, fertile soils and strong crop yields.
High Plains land is characterized by mostly flat or gently rolling terrain covered by large, windswept grasslands and few trees. “High” Plains is not just a figure of speech; the land is at a higher elevation than the rest of Kansas and the rest of the Great Plains. This High Plains land gets abundant sunshine and 15-25 inches of precipitation per year (1). The region as a whole features strong net farm incomes, with the average farm bringing in triple the overall Kansas average.
In the southern High Plains region of Kansas, three adjacent counties, Haskell, Finney, and Scott stand out for having fantastic production. According to the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture (2), Haskell County had the highest total sales of agricultural products in the state, as well as the highest average agricultural income per farm, at $5M+. Haskell County’s ag income primarily came from selling more cattle than any other county in the state.
Just to the north, Finney County, which is partly High Plains and partly Arkansas River Lowlands, brought in the strongest crop yields in the state in both 2017 and 2012. This was partly thanks to having the most irrigated acres in the state. There is also plenty of productive dryland farming, given the fact that three-fourths of the total farmland acreage in the county is not irrigated. Finney county produced the most sorghum for grain in the state in acres, bushels, and dollars and the most tons of forage (hay and haylage, grass silage, and greenchop) (2), while also producing strong yields in corn and wheat.
These strong yields were not just confined to Haskell and Finney counties. Other counties that performed well in this region show the variety and scope of what you can produce on High Plains land. Here are a few more examples of “most in the state of Kansas” awards for 2017.
- Thomas County produced the most corn for grain, in acres, bushels, and dollars.
- Grant County produced the most tons of sorghum for silage or greenchop and also had the most acres of vegetables harvested for sale.
- Kearney County produced the most corn for silage or greenchop (both in acres and tons)
- Sherman County produced the most dry edible beans and the most sunflower seed.
- Stevens County had the most irrigated acres of any of the High Plains counties.
You’d think that with all these excellent production numbers, the High Plains land would be some of the most expensive in the state, but it’s actually the opposite. Morton County, at the southwest corner of the state, has the lowest estimated market value of land and buildings per acre in the state, and the average estimated value per acre in all of the other High Plains counties is lower than the Kansas state average. All these factors together make the High Plains of Kansas a strong choice for the agricultural land buyer who wants a profitable farming or ranching operation.
Arkansas River Lowlands
The Arkansas River Lowlands are another fertile location for agricultural production. This relatively flat land is an alluvial plain characterized by river sediments, sand, and gravel topped with soil. There are also some sand dunes in this region, many of which are covered with grass, but a few of which are still “live” dunes (3). The Arkansas River Lowlands extend beyond Western Kansas into the middle of the state, but we will look at this region in its entirety here.
Many of the highest-producing counties in Kansas have at least some Arkansas River Lowlands passing through the county, suggesting that this land is highly desirable for agricultural use. Here are some examples that help to show the diversity of what this type of Kansas land can produce.
One example of a productive Arkansas River Lowland county is Finney County, mentioned above. Reno County, which is partly lowlands and partly High Plains, is another example. In the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Reno county boasted the highest number of farms with an annual revenue of $25,000 and above, winning the number one spot in the state in three separate tiers ($25-49k, $50-99k, and $100k or more). Reno County’s production brought farm income in many categories, but a few of the ones that stand out are that Reno had the most broilers and other meat-type chickens sold, the most farms that sold wheat, and the most farms that sold sheep, goats, wool, mohair, and milk in the state.
Hamilton county and Gray County (both also partly High Plains land) are two other examples of productive Arkansas River Lowlands land. Hamilton County reported the most milk cows in the state and the most income from cow’s milk, at $208 million in 2017. Gray County reported the highest total Net Cash Farm Income of the Operations (revenue minus expenses), at a total of $118 million in 2017, with a per-farm average income that was more than 5 times the Kansas average.
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