Article By: Beverley Kreul, farmflavor.com
The Appalachian Mountains. The Kentucky Derby. The coal mines, cornfields and cattle farms. Kentucky is home to one of the richest and most diverse environments in the nation.
The characters, settings and events of Kentucky agriculture combine to form the cornerstone of the Commonwealth. Some traditions are part of the sustaining cultural history; others carry on time-honored traditions; even more help shape the future of the Bluegrass State. Agriculture touches each of the more than four million Kentuckians, so it only makes sense there is an office and resource that influences nearly every aspect of the agricultural community.
The Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP) and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund(KADF) are key players in shaping the agricultural economy in the state. The GOAP, founded in 1998, provides administrative support to the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, chaired by the governor, and the Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corporation Board, chaired by the commissioner of agriculture. The GOAP also plays a key role in policy issues, and serves as an advisory outlet on agricultural and rural issues.
Roger Thomas, GOAP executive director, says the office reinforces the message of Gov. Steve Beshear to keep agriculture alive and profitable throughout the Commonwealth.
“Agriculture is the foundation of our economy here in Kentucky,” Thomas says. “The GOAP is a direct link between the governor and the agricultural community on all levels.”
Ahead of the Curve
Kentucky is the only state with this type of program. Each county has an agricultural development council where local leaders volunteer their time to serve as part of this historic initiative. The grassroots approach ensures that the needs and desires of their communities are addressed by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board. This innovative approach has pushed Kentucky to the forefront of agricultural diversification nationwide.
“Kentucky is a model for the advancement of agriculture in the country,” says Charles Miller, a livestock farmer from Jessamine County. “That’s not something I say idly. That is something I say because people everywhere go out and talk about it and ask you about it.”
The GOAP develops agricultural and rural development programs throughout the state. This includes assisting producers in diversifying their operations, funding youth leadership programs, such as 4-H and FFA, working through the Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corporation to offer low interest loans to beginning farmers and helping farmers with energy efficiency investments and much more.
A Beneficial Partnership
GOAP and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture partner on many initiatives, but one of the most significant partnerships is through the Kentucky Proud program. This program, funded through the KADF and administered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, is one of the nation’s premier state branding programs.
“One of the best things about KADF programs is they have been responsive to the changing needs of Kentucky agriculture and the challenging economic environment in which we live,” Thomas says. “From time to time, we have developed new programs that are timely and necessary, while still maintaining the proven programs that have been the mainstay for many years.”
Programs funded by KADF, have had a major impact on the landscape and success of Kentucky agriculture. Diversification and reduced dependency on tobacco production has been the most noticeable change as the result of KADF investments. The KADF has invested more than $375 million toward helping tobacco producers diversify.
A decade ago, 60,000 to 70,000 Kentucky farms grew tobacco as a cash crop, making agriculture in the Commonwealth dependent on the success of the industry. Today, fewer than 5,000 farmers are growing tobacco. KADF investments have enabled farmers who were once growing tobacco to diversify their operations and remain on their farms.
“Because of matching investments made through KADF programs, there have been three-quarters of a billion dollars invested into agriculture and the rural economy in Kentucky,” Thomas says. “These investments are extremely significant, and I believe we are continuing to see the fruits of those investments.”
In the face of a volatile and shifting economy, investments made on the state level are extremely important to Kentucky’s success both now and in the future.
“We are all aware of the changing financial environment we face and the economic challenges we deal with as an industry. The changes in federal farm programs and the possibility of significant payment reductions in the future are real,” Thomas says.
“KADF investments are critical as we continue our diversification efforts across the Commonwealth. Kentucky agriculture can be very proud of this one-of-a-kind program. It has become a model for agricultural diversification programs around the country.”