By Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan F. Quarles
Anytime you start a new job, it can be hectic as you learn the ropes. That certainly is true for a public official, who must get to know her or his staff and hit the ground running – the public’s business doesn’t stop to allow a new office holder to get settled in. But even by that standard, my first month as your agriculture commissioner was one for the record books.
An old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and I wanted to convey to all of you that I will be an active commissioner who won’t be a stranger no matter where you are in Kentucky. So I hit the road literally the day after the swearing-in ceremony of constitutional officers in Frankfort to attend the Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Lexington on Jan. 5. Since then, I’ve visited the Kentucky Commodity Conference, the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association Convention & Trade Show, the Kentucky Ag Expo, the Kentucky Association of Food Banks’ Rally to Solve Hunger, and numerous other conferences and meetings. I chaired my first Kentucky Agricultural Development board and Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corporation board meetings, and I testified before the House and Senate agriculture committees in Frankfort.
Even under normal circumstances, it was a whirlwind schedule. But January had much more in store for us.
Less than two weeks after taking office, the state veterinarian’s office was notified that avian influenza had been discovered in a turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana, about an hour north of Owensboro. State Veterinarian Robert C. Stout reinstated restrictions on bird sales and movement that had been imposed last spring as a proactive measure in the wake of massive bird flu outbreaks elsewhere in the nation. Dr. Stout has maintained constant contact with his counterpart in Indiana and federal officials to keep us apprised of the situation in Indiana, and he has communicated with stakeholders in Kentucky to let them know what’s going on and encourage them to step up their biosecurity measures. As I write this in early February, the situation in Indiana appears to be under control, but we remain vigilant as we wait to see what happens in Indiana and elsewhere.
The following week, a winter storm slowed much of Kentucky to a crawl. The snow and ice made it difficult for farmers and food producers to work, but it was a particular hardship on our dairy farmers. In some places, milk trucks couldn’t reach the farms on the snow- and ice-covered roads, and some farmers had to dump their milk. But the farmers persevered, and in a few days, the snow and ice melted in record warm temperatures.
Sadly, January ended with a historical agricultural landmark, Blue Grass Stockyards in Lexington, being destroyed by fire. Blue Grass was one of the largest livestock sales venues in the eastern United States, but it also was a mainstay of Kentucky agriculture and business for 70 years. I have fond memories of accompanying my dad to Blue Grass Stockyards when I was a kid. Blue Grass has added sales in its other locations to make sure Kentucky producers continue to have adequate access to markets for their livestock, and I have committed the resources of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to help out in any way we can.
With the first month behind us, we are looking forward to many more exciting months to come! The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is here to serve all Kentuckians in good times and bad. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of service to you or visit www.kyagr.comfor more information.