Knox Family Roots Deep in Western Kansas

Knox Family Roots Deep in Western Kansas

Couple says diversity, expansion have been keys to thriving in region with often unfriendly climate.

Phillip and Sharron Knox admit that sometimes it is hard to make people understand why you keep on farming in arid western Kansas.

"For us, the answer is this is the land that our ancestors settled. That makes it our legacy," says Phillip.

His theory, he said, is that most of the land was homesteaded in the 1890s during a period of particularly good rainfall. When the bad times came, some people left. When the really bad times – such as the 1930s and 1950s – came, more people left.

"I guess we are the survivors," he said. "We're the remnants. Still, I don't think our children will be coming back."

GARDEN SPOT: Phillip and Sharron Knox say the 8-foot fence around their 100x100-foot garden plot protects their growing vegetables both from the ruthless Kansas wind and the deer and rabbits that like to feed on the tender plants.

It's hard to make a living in northwestern Kansas agriculture, he said, even though the last two years have been very good as rains have been adequate and prices for farm commodities high.

"We are shareholders in U.S. Premium Beef and a few years ago we started a steam-flaking operation, selling flaked corn to local feedlots and dairies," Phillip said. "Value-added products are really the way to go in today's agriculture environment."

Sharron jokes that Phillip is the rare Kansas kid who went away to college and then came home to the farm. He holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics from Kansas State University, where he graduated with honors in 1969.

He went on to a master's in ag economics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1970 and a Phd from Berkeley in 1973.

He was an assistant professor at Colorado State University from graduation to 1977 when he decided to return to the family farm.

FLAKED CORN: Steam-flaked corn pours out of chute and into the storage area at the Ag-Sun plant located on the property with the Knox home. The steam-flaking plant has the capacity to supply feed for 40,000 feedlot and dairy cows. The majority goes to the dairy at Syracuse.

He was a childhood member of Our Savior's Lutheran Church at Brewster and resumed his membership when he returned to the area 36 years ago. He has held a number of leadership positions within the church.

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He is also a supporter of the Brewster Unified School District, serving as a school board member for 12 years, a member of the booster club, financially supporting school functions through both Knox Farms and the corn-flaking business, Ag-Sun LLC. He has been an announcer for home football games for more than 20 years.

Phillip has also been a Thomas County Farm Bureau member for 35 years and is a member of the Kansas Corn Growers Association.

He has been an active 4-H Club project leader and has held leadership positions in the Brewster Lions Club, the Kansas Lions Club, the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District, the Tumbleweed Chorus, the Citizens Medical Center in Colby and Gideons International.

Sharron graduated from K-State with a bachelor's in Dietetics/Institutional Management and earned a Masters in Nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971.

PULLING OUT: A trailer truck pulls out of the steam flaking plant located on the home property of Phillip and Sharron Knox. The steam-flaking operation includes bins for whole corn storage as well as the flaking operation.

She worked as a consultant nutritionist for area hospitals and nursing homes from 1979 to 1982 before becoming the Women's Infants and Children's Nutritionist for 15 counties in northwest Kansas for 29 years, retiring in 2011.

Sharron also has a long list of positions with Our Savior's Lutheran Church at Brewster where she has been a member for 36 years.

 She has been active in 4-H all her life – from 10 years in childhood in Norton County to more than 20 years as a club leader or project leader for the Brewster Prairie Gen Club in Thomas County.

The Knox parents don't expect their children to return to the farm, but they are proud of the lives they have built outside the operation.

Their oldest daughter, Stephanie, obtained a bachelor's degree in biology and microbiology from Kansas State University and a masters in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

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Before devoting herself to her home and three daughters, she was research team leader on the corn root worm project at Monsanto in Chesterfield, Mo.

She grew up in 4-H and community service and is a leader in her home church, Webster Gardens Lutheran Church in Webster Gardens, Mo.

Son Daniel is an honors graduate in industrial engineering at K-State and his working in the corporate headquarters of Frito-Lay in Plano, Texas. He had his wife, Vickie, have one son and one daughter.

Son, Timothy, graduated last spring from Kansas State University with a degree in Industrial Engineering. He is expecting good news soon on his search for a job.

The Knox family has expanded their farming operation to add diversity along, branching into U.S. Premium Beef, adding a modest-size 2,500 head feedlot and starting AgSun LLC, the steam flaking operation.

The farming operation has grown from 193 acres in 1976 to almost 9,000 rented and owned acres today.

They also earn a majority share of the Century Feeders feedlot in Goodland.

Their farming ownership encompasses properties in Thomas, Logan and Sherman Counties.

Their brick home, built in 1998, is east of Brewster and includes two shops and an orchard of 75 fruit trees as well as 100x100-foot garden plot, flower beds and open areas of buffalo and blue grama grass.

That property also holds some storage bins and the operations of AgSun.

The beef feedlot is in Logan County on the original homestead of Phil's grandparents where the small stone building they built as their prairie home still stands.

The business also owns a storage and machinery building in Sherman County with a small area of trees providing a windbreak.

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