Farmer discusses soil, consumers, global influences on his work

The Kansas Department of Agriculture and Alpha Zeta hosted K-State agronomy alumnus and Kansas farmer Justin Knopf to discuss his work and the importance of farming in Throckmorton Hall on March 25, 2019. (Sarah Moyer | Collegian Media Group)

Students and faculty packed into a Throckmorton lecture hall to hear a farmer’s perspective on global agriculture Monday evening. The lecture featured Kansas State agronomy alumnus, Justin Knopf, who farms a variety of row crops in Saline County in central Kansas.

“I learned about sustainable growth, plant life and how important it is to soil life, which goes to plants, animals and people,” said Marisa Avila, sophomore in animal sciences and industry.

Knopf walked the audience through his thought processes from soil microbiology and farm-level challenges to domestic consumer trends and concerns and national and global issues. The step-by-step design was intended to make the subject of global agriculture less intimidating and more manageable, Knopf said.

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed,” he told the audience. “Focus on small incremental improvements.”

Knopf also discussed natural resources and explained how he as a farmer thinks about his actions and the natural resources they impact. He gave examples of partnerships and creative solutions his is trying on his family’s farm.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture and Alpha Zeta, an agriculture honor fraternity, hosted Knopf, who has been featured in The New York Times, a Discovery Channel documentary and a book entitled “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn.

Alpha Zeta member Andy Mink, junior in milling science, said the lecture is traditionally a main event for the group each year.

“It promotes ideas in agriculture that I think we all should be talking about,” Mink said. “After we read that article, it was ‘Yes! We want this guy.'”

The New York Times article Mink referred to is “A Farmer’s Tough Year on the Trade War’s Kansas Front.” It was written in November 2018 and describes how global events impact farming decisions at Knopf’s family farm.

While Mink said he found Knopf’s story to be relatable having grown up on a farm himself, Mink also said he gleaned new ideas from the lecture. One was a reminder to be open-minded.

“We all need to be able to question the things we believe thoroughly enough to get out of our own echo chambers,” Mink said. “We need to be able to listen and share.”

Knopf said he tried to provide encouragement and transparency to students in attendance.

“Over half the battle in my mind is knowing the right questions to ask, and they’re asking the right questions,” Knopf said. “I hope that I was able to offer some perspective to stay engaged.”

Knopf, who graduated in 2000, said he agreed to the lecture because of his experience as a K-State student.

“When a student or student group calls and there is anything that I can bring back to campus that may be of value to them, it’s very difficult for me to tell them no,” he said. “What I hope to have shared with them is just how wide the scope is at the different levels of perspective that we have to have as a farm in central Kansas, or anywhere in the U.S.”