KARL Offers Lifelong Learning

Kansas Agricultural and Rural LeadershipSince 1990, the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership (KARL) Program has provided 330 adults from 99 Kansas counties with leadership development opportunities.

Al Davis serves as president and director of the KARL program, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to developing leaders for agriculture, business, and rural communities. 

Davis said having the KARL program hub on the Kansas State University campus makes sense, even though KARL is funded by outside donations.

“K-State Research and Extension has a vested interest in the development of leadership in rural communities,” Davis said. “The university buying into lifelong learning fits right into our mission and what we want to do, so being based here in the center of ag education makes it a natural fit.”

Class XII started in 2013, and Davis said more than 400 people inquired about the class. Only 45 of those 400 were interviewed, and 30 people were selected for the class. That will bring the totals to 360 graduates from 101 counties.

Leadership by example

Don Schroeder (R-Hesston) has served in the Kansas Legislature since 2007, and he was a graduate of the first KARL class. He said KARL does a good job of enhancing knowledge and leadership skills through direct contact and communication with proven leaders and programs throughout the state.

“Leadership by example is typically very effective to teach future leaders, and that is what KARL provides,” Schroeder said. “One of the many 'best parts' about KARL is the contacts that were made. Many of my KARL classmates are very involved and influential in agricultural policy, and it is a privilege to know them personally.”

Susan Concannon (R-Beloit), vice-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, completed Class IX.

Davis, a KARL Class V graduate, served a year as assistant director and became president in 2013 when Jack Lindquist stepped down to concentrate on the KARL Graduate Program. Five states and a Canadian province have created programs based on both Kansas models.

Training opportunities

Each two-year KARL class teaches 30 participants from across Kansas how to better serve agriculture and their local communities.

KARL in Washington DCParticipants in the program have the opportunity to receive training in Kansas and Washington, D.C., as well as through an international trip at the end of the program, for a total of 52 days in the two years. Most participants have backgrounds in agriculture or come from rural Kansas communities.

Classes are made up of about 50 percent farmers and ranchers, Davis said, others might have interest in areas such as economic development, banking, journalism and entrepreneurship. There has been an increase in the number of women who participate in the program as well.

“Agriculture is not just farming anymore,” he said. “Agriculture is still a leading industry in the state of Kansas, and for it to be a leading industry you have to look at the business side, education side, production side, and marketing side.”

The KARL program, Davis said, has always been community-supported and community-driven. Each participant is asked to contribute $2,000 in tuition, while Davis works to raise the rest of the program funds. Because the program is a non-profit, it also strives to be non-biased and nonpartisan to give participants the best resources and all sides of a story — important for all industries, but particularly for the agricultural industry.

Lifelong Learning

Learning extends beyond the mix of people who participate. 

“It’s hard to put a value on how the investment in these people goes beyond the program,” Davis said. “It’s a small investment for big outcomes.

The KARL program, Davis said, is much like the state of Kansas in that it is very fluid. Kansas’ agriculturists must adapt to issues related to drought and wind, for example.

“When you think of KARL and lifelong learning, that leadership has to be fluid as well, making sure learning doesn’t stop at a bachelor’s degree and continues on through your lifespan,” Davis said. “KARL helps people, who otherwise might not get professional development at a leadership level, continue their education.”