Agriculture sustained the first settlers of Kentucky in the 1770s, and the business of raising crops and livestock continues to be the backbone of rural Kentucky today. Kentucky is home to a wide variety of agriculture production, from horses and beef cattle to tobacco and corn. Agriculture in Kentucky is one of the state’s leading and most vital industries, contributing about $45.6 billion to Kentucky’s economy each year. Kentucky agriculture is also constantly changing to keep up with consumer demand and the ever-growing world population.
Kentucky is home to 75,966 farms, from large to small. The average farm size in Kentucky is 171 acres, compared to the national average of 444 acres. Kentucky agriculture is dominated by small family farms. About 66 percent of its farms (49,942) have annual sales of less than $10,000.
Of Kentucky’s 25.4 million acres, just over 50% is considered farmland (12.8 million acres).
Kentucky agricultural cash receipts (sale of crops and livestock) set a record $6.5 billion in 2014, but fell to $5.4 billion in 2016. Receipts in 2017 were reported at $5.6 billion due to greater livestock sales. Crop sales continue to decline due to price received by farmers.
Kentucky's top agricultural enterprises based on sales:
SOYBEANS & CORN
These versatile crops are used for animal feed, , foods, fuels, and can be found in thousands of products. Feed grain sales totaled $1.5 billion in 2017.
Broilers (chickens raised for meat), eggs, and turkeys provided Kentucky farmers more than $1.2 billion in 2017.
HORSES & OTHER EQUINE
Horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules have an annual economic impact of $4 billion. Horse sales in 2017 totaled nearly $1 billion.
Kentucky is home to more than 2 million cattle and calves and is the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi River. Sales totaled $740 million in 2017.
While hay does not bring as much money from sales as other crops and livestock, hay (cut and dried grasses for feed) are produced on more than 2 million acres, more than any other crop. Kentucky soils, water resources, and climate make the commonwealth the perfect place to feed grazing animals.
Kentucky Agriculture Cash Receipts in 2017:
All commodities - $5.6 billion
Animals and products - $3.2 billion
Crops - $2.46 billion
Other animals and products (includes horses) - $982 million
Soybeans - $826 million
Broilers (chickens) - $1.03 billion
Corn - $717 million
Cattle and calves - $740 million
Tobacco - $345 million
Hay - $228 million
Dairy products, Milk - $196 million
Miscellaneous crops - $168 million
Chicken eggs - $118 million
Wheat - $117 million
Hogs - $112 million
Turkeys - $21 million
Honey - $775,000
Source: USDA-NASS Economic Research Service Kentucky Fact Sheet (November 30, 2018)
Top 5 Agricultural Exports (2017)
Soybeans - $479.2 million
Other livestock (horses) - $428.6 million
Tobacco - $253.1 million
Feeds and other feed grains - $141.8 million
Corn - $139.7 million
Top 5 Kentucky Counties in Agricultural Sales (2012 Census)
Graves County - $337.7 million
Christian County - $185.8 million
Todd County - $180.2 million
McLean County - $179.7 million
Daviess County - $176.4 million