Keith Kisling of Burlington Becomes the Twenty First Member of the Oklahoma Ag Hall of FameWed, 09 May 2018 21:43:58 CDT
Everyone was listening to Burlington High School vocational-agriculture teacher Keith Kisling.
Including, Kisling himself.
It was the early 1970s, Kisling was 28 years old and still pretty fresh out of Oklahoma State University.
“When I was teaching I was telling the kids that there’s just not very many young farmers coming back and the potential to farm is going to be pretty big,” he said. “Not only did I convince them to come back, but I convinced myself and that’s when we got started.”
On Wednesday, Keith Kisling of Burlington, received the Governor’s Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture Award during a special ceremony hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and sponsored by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives at the state Capitol.
After the award ceremony- Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays talked with Kisling about the award and what it means to him and to the members of his family. You can go and listen to their conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR below.
This is the highest award given by the Governor to honor distinguished Oklahoma agriculture producers. The prestigious award honors leaders in the agriculture industry who exemplify personal values, performance, and achievement. Recipients are recognized for having high standards of conduct, leadership, innovation, and accomplishments in agriculture and as serving as a role model for Oklahoma agriculture’s young people.
Also on Wednesday, Jimmy W. Kinder of Walters, received Governor Fallin’s Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Award, Randy Gilbert of Tecumseh, received Governor Fallin’s Outstanding Public Service in Agriculture Award and the Governor’s Outstanding Legacy in Agriculture Award was presented posthumously to Larry Watkins of Stillwater.
Following his own advice
After what Kisling told the students, giving up his position of four years as vocational- agriculture teacher, seemed like the right move at the time to the 28-year-old. He knew that with several farmers in the area approaching retirement, land would likely be available for leasing. Kisling was surrendering a salaried position for a job with two paydays a year: one when the cattle come off wheat and the other when harvested wheat is sold. Still, it seemed like a good move. He believed in agriculture.
"I will never forget," he said. "We had saved about $12,000 from teaching, and the first year of farming, we lost $12,000 on cattle. But it got better."
A lot better. Why? He believes in agriculture.
As full-time farmers and ranchers, Kisling and his wife Marlene have built a thriving agricultural operation growing wheat, wheat pasture, cattle, irrigated corn, soybeans, alfalfa hay, grass hay and sorghum. The couple also operated a feedlot for stocker cattle.
Kisling's operation employed three individuals, as well as himself, before he started transitioning his operation to his son Chad. The feedlot today is used to start the stocker cattle before they go on the winter wheat to graze and gain weight.
Kisling irrigated a field of alfalfa and corn silage and bough corn to feed the cattle when they came off the winter wheat in March, and then sold by June 1.
However in addition to his roles in production agriculture, Kisling has and continues to champion the ag industry not only locally and statewide, but nationally and internationally.
Onboard with many boards …
Kisling has been a member of the Burlington Cooperative for more than 50 years. He served on the Oklahoma Wheat Commission and the U.S. Wheat Associates board, holding the positions of chairman, vice chairman and secretary on the latter. During that time, Kisling traveled to Cuba, including meetings with that country’s leader, Fidel Castrol. Kisling even helped with the planning of details that led to a shipment of grain from his region – from Johnston’s Grain in Enid – to Cuba.
Representing the wheat growing-community as vice chairman of Value Added Products, the frozen dough plant in Alva, Kisling spoke to the House Committee on Agriculture on Closed Co-ops. VAP was created as a closed co-op with the goals of complete vertical integration, plant to plate, creating product lines using Hard Red Winter wheat from the region. Kisling even traveled to Germany to purchase the specialized equipment necessary for the plant.
He has never hesitated to lend his time and voice to agriculture.
“You know, I always thought if we had a bad crop here in Burlington, Okla., the price would go up. Not true,” he said. “The reality of it is, how good of crop does Canada have, Australia have, and now the Russian crops. So our export market is what really makes a difference. How big of crops do those countries have that export wheat and are in competition with us? And when I found that out, that’s when I got involved with the Oklahoma Wheat Commission and U.S. Wheat Associates, going through the chairs of U.S. Wheat and being able to travel some and go to countries that were our exporting competition you might say. We were also going to those countries and explaining how much better our quality is than those other exporting countries. It did give me an overview of wheat.”
Kisling was one of the closing speakers at the World Trade Summit in Sharm EI Sheikh, which is located between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. The Summit hosted dignitaries from 20 Middle Eastern countries. In his time with U.S. Wheat Associates, the farm-raised Oklahoman traveled to 17 countries to help maintain old markets and open new markets to buy United States' produced wheat.
He said he was the only one in the room wearing boots and jeans, however, he added, “Those people want to hear from a farmer, they want to hear a farmer’s perspective.”
He has served on the Oklahoma Farm Bureau board of directors since 2014 and served for four years as Oklahoma’s representative on the American Farm Bureau Federation wheat committee. In 2006, the Kisling family was chosen OKFB Farm Family of the Year, and Keith received the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award from OKFB the same year.
“The Farm Bureau has meant so much to me,” he said. “I owe a lot of thanks to them.”
In 2006, he received the Oklahoma Wheat Commission’s Staff of Life Award for Exceptional Leadership and Marketing, in 2008 he was presented with the "Mr. Wheat" Award from the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association, in 2010 he was awarded OSU’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni award and in 2014 he received the Triangle Insurance Lifetime Achievement Award. Kisling served as chairman of the Oklahoma FFA Foundation from 2014-2016 and now serves as past chairman. Kisling has served on the Oklahoma Agriculture Mediation Program board since 2014, and he is a past president of the Oklahoma Plains Grain board. Kisling was also appointed by then-USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to serve on the Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture Advisory Committee from 2010-2016. The committee examined the long-term impacts of biotechnology on the U.S. food and agriculture system and USDA, and provided guidance to USDA.
Committee service is a big part of Kisling’s story. He graduated from OSU in 1970, but rather than moving the tassel over and moving on, he has continued to give back through service.
“I’d do everything I can to be on a board or committee at OSU, and I’m on quite a few,” he said. “In fact, Career Tech people call me “Plywood” for a nickname because I’m on so many boards. It’s OK, I’m trying to give back.”
At home, faith and family have provided a solid foundation for the Oklahoma native. Kisling has been a member and leader in the Driftwood Christian Church for nearly five decades. And, Keith and wife Marlene have been married 49 years, raising three children and now also enjoying eight grandchildren.
“This is a Kisling Farms’ award in my opinion,” he said. “I’m glad for the honor and it is really a big honor, but I couldn’t be up there if it wasn’t for my family.”
Our pictures of the Excellence in Ag Award ceremony can be seen and enjoyed on our FLICKR album of the day- click or tap here to jump over and check out the album.
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