Planting seeds today for a prosperous tomorrow

From Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy
By Director Warren Beeler

It doesn't take long working at the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy to figure out how blessed Kentucky Agriculture has been as a result of the master Settlement Agreement. Kentucky's legislators deserve your praise for having the forethought to trust the agriculture industry with this investment. In my travels throughout Kentucky, it is evident county by county of the rewards producers have reaped as a result of the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fun. As we plant more and more seeds throughout the commonwealth, Kentucky's agriculture industry continues to grow and prosper.

Take for example, Rockcastle County farmers have built 167 hay barns with their agricultural development funds. Those producers have been given the opportunity to grow and expand their operations and in return, have become more profitable and efficient. Even more so, we can look at Anderson County cattle producers who have more than 600 head of cows participating in an estrus synchronization program. The cattle are artificially inseminated to some of the world's best bulls; thus, producers benefit from a shortened calving window and an additional return of $6,300 per herd. The county money has certainly had a lasting impact at the farm level by allowing producers to produce more with less and increase yields, all while taking the best care of the land, water and animals.

On a state level, Kentucky has been able to try new agricultural ventures in an effort to remain current. In an ever-changing industry, we must be flexible and adapt to new trends. The ethanol plant in Hopkinsville is a great example of adaptability. The plant now has 3,300 farmer members and returned 78 cents a bushel back to producers this past year. Furthermore, Kentucky now has 27 USDA meat processing plants, up from 23 plants just 15 years ago. Four of these specifically service independent poultry producers whose demand stems from the growing local food movement. The proof is everywhere When we take chances on new agriculture ventures, the producers benefit, the state benefits, and most importantly the agriculture industry grows and prospers.

It's no secret our industry is faced with new challenges daily. The producer education, producer marketing and farmer support programs implemented by the four leading agriculture development fund recipients (Kentucky Beef Network, Kentucky Proud, Kentucky Dairy Development Council, and the Kentucky Horticulture Council) ensure our producers are prepared for those challenges. Moreover, as we see new entrepreneurial ventures coming forth throughout the state, funding of the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development remains an invaluable invest KCARD offers business development advice, business and marketing plans and business education programs to determine the needs and solutions for a producer's operation.

Al Cross, director of the Institute of Rural Journalism and Community Issues, said to me just two weeks into this job, "Beeler, 'your' money has gotten stale. You need to take some chances." The money has been amazing for Kentucky agriculture, but Mr. Cross always makes you think. "Is there something more we can do with this money that will benefit farmers, agri-businesses and rural communities?" "How do we make this money new again?" "Where can we find those projects with eh maximum impact?" "How do we help the young farmers?" As we've seen with the new and innovative agricultural projects rising to the top, the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board is willing to plant the riskier seeds that benefit producers and the agriculture industry.

Investments in crops like chia, goldenrod, sumac, and hemp offer new windows into the future of Kentucky agriculture. As farmers are pushed to become more efficient, we will surely see more projects like Garden Gateway, LLC's 2-acre greenhouse in Ashland, producing hydroponic lettuce in just 22 days and 2 semi loads a day. Who knows what we might be growing in 20 years, or how we will be growing it. Either way, the Agriculture Development Funds will play a key role in helping Kentucky Agriculture adapt.

Kentucky producers owe a great deal of thanks to the legislators who initially established the Agricultural Development Fund with HB 611 more than 15 years ago. Today, we thank Gov. Bevin and the legislators for continuing this funding into the new biennium. We thank you for trusting the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board to make good decisions about future projects. As the new executive director of GOAP, I'm like most with a new job: a little scared and a lot excited. I thank those executive directors who came before me for their great work. I inherited a great staff and a selfless set of board members who weigh the merits of each project on the basis of farmer, agri-business and community impact. Most importantly, I thank Gov. Bevin for this astonishing opportunity to help the agriculture industry help itself.

PolicyJennifer Elwell