Accident focuses spotlight on grain bin safety

(First Appeared in the April 6 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

 Warren County sheriff’s deputies attempted to dig Douglas Groce out of a grain bin on March 23, 2017. Unfortunately, attempts to rescue Groce after his fall into the bin were unsuccessful and the 56-year-old farmer died on the scene.

This was the first death associated with grain bin entrapment since December of 2015 when a Taylor County man died while loading grain from a bin into a truck. The man entered the steel grain bin to unclog a blockage, when the grain collapsed.

A report released in March from the Agricultural Safety and Health Program at Purdue University states that no fewer than 60 fatal and non-fatal cases were documented nationally in 2016 inside agricultural confined spaces, including grain storage and handling facilities. Twenty-nine (48%) of those cases were directly related to grain entrapments.

DSC_6251The 29 grain entrapment cases documented in 2016 represented a 21% increase from 2015 when 24 were recorded, according to the Purdue research.

Since 2006, Kentucky has experienced 13 reported grain entrapments. There were possibly others that were not reported.

Dale Dobson, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Home Safety Program administrator, is working with the Southeast Center for Ag Health & Injury prevention at the University of Kentucky to prepare rescue workers to respond to grain storage accidents.

One of the main tools available for use in these situations is the grain tube. The plastic or aluminum tubes surround the victim, halting the inward flow of grain and blocking any additional pressure that may be created from rescuers. It is then possible to start removing the grain around the victim, inside the tube.

“We have found about eight of these tubes on the market,” says Dobson. “The important thing is not which of these products you have, it’s knowing how to properly use it, rapidly and efficiently.”

Dobson says there is limited procedural information available about the use of these products, and that is what he hopes to see developed through the concerted efforts of safety organizations, first responders and farmers.

Dobson says he’s hoping these efforts will lead to an operations manual that will not be brand-specific, but will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each product.

“I think the goal is to say ‘this one is best used in these circumstances, under these conditions,’” said the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Joan Mazur. Some rescue units may choose to have two or more units, depending on the situations they encounter.

Grain bin size varies from location to location. “We have a half-million bushel bin in Larue County, then there are a lot of 10-thousand bushel bins, too,” Dobson observed. Each size has its own specific set of challenges in an emergency. Some of those locations might sound surprising.

“Louisville Fire and Rescue is scheduling a grain rescue training program,” Dobson said. “As these micro-breweries are popping up, thousand-bushel grain bins are popping up with them. I never thought about that until Louisville called me.”

The Saturday following the most recent grain bin accident, Dobson traveled to Meade County to participate in a Grain Bin Safety course, sponsored in part by Meade County Farm Bureau. “We had over 40 firefighters from seven different fire departments show up to train with the farmers,” he remarked. “We were on a real grain farm, in real grain bins, in real scenarios. The rescuers got to train, hands-on, on a farm because farmers hosted it.”

Dobson hopes to see more and more local responders equipped and trained to react to grain bin entrapments.

“My ultimate goal is to keep the farmers from getting caught to start with,” Dobson explained. “But if something happens in Meade County, I’m very confident that the fire and rescue personnel will know how to approach a bin and what to do because they’ve been there and trained.”

KY Avian Influenza event shuts down public sales and shows

(First Appeared in the April 6 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

 Kentucky state veterinarian Robert Stout was hoping it wouldn’t come to this.

However, the detection of low-pathogenic avian influenza in a commercial breeder flock in western Kentucky has led Stout’s office to impose restrictions on the movement of poultry in the Commonwealth.

DSC_6220The virus was discovered by the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville while conducting a routine pre-slaughter test of “spent hens” no longer being used for egg production. The affected premises is under quarantine, and the flock of approximately 22,000 hens was depopulated as a precautionary measure.

The last time Avian Influenza was detected in Kentucky was in 2009.

“In light of the situation we’re dealing with, there will be no shows or swap meets until further notice, which, I hope, won’t be that long,” Stout said. The prohibition will last at least three weeks unless new incidences of the disease are discovered. “If everything goes the best way, it won’t be long,” he re-emphasized.

A letter to stakeholders, which can be found on the Department of Agriculture website at http://www.kyagr.com, lists comingling sales and show events, such as stockyards, flea markets, swap meets and shows as being primarily affected by the ban. Private sale with farm to farm movement within Kentucky is allowed, but Stout recommends strict adherence to state law and to biosecurity protocols. “We’re trying to be proactive and encourage people to cooperate, because this can be carried on your feet or your hands or your clothes, even on the tires of your car,” he noted.

Jamie Guffey, executive director of the Kentucky Poultry Federation echoed Stout’s biosecurity recommendations in a letter to Federation membership, stating “going from farm to farm is a dangerous practice and one that is a significant concern to the poultry industry.” The letter went on to suggest a list of practices that might be implemented to reduce the spread of the disease, including;

  • Cleaning and disinfectant procedure to stop the spread of disease:
  • Contact poultry growers before any deliveries.
  • Wash trucks daily.
  • Clean footwear between deliveries.
  • Wear disposable boots when on poultry farms.
  • Spray off tires and wheel-wells with a disinfectant before driving on a poultry farm and after leaving the farm.
  • Do not deliver product to different poultry companies without washing your truck.

“Our goal is to reduce the threat to the poultry industry; this is only possible with a team effort,” Guffey’s letter continued. “That is why the Kentucky Poultry Federation is asking our members, growers, companies, suppliers and venders to be aware of the situation and make a conscious effort to reduce the spreading of this or any disease. “

In addition, the state veterinarian’s office recommends that producers watch for early signs to prevent the spread of disease and report sick birds, unusual signs of disease or unexpected deaths to them at (502) 573-0282 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says that avian flu viruses do not normally infect humans. APHIS issued a reminder that the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses.

Poultry and eggs generated an estimated $1.2 billion in cash receipts to Kentucky farmers in 2015, the Kentucky office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported. Kentucky farmers produced 307.7 million broilers and nearly 1.3 billion eggs in 2015.

Stout says as long as the disease exists in the wild bird populations, biosecurity is the best method to prevent the spread of the virus in domestic fowl.

“The virus does not like heat or sunshine,” according to Stout. “Our best friend, going forward, would be about a week of 75 degree temperatures.”

Grain Insurance Board certifies assets

(First Appeared in the March 16 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

 Each March, the nine-member Kentucky Grain Insurance Corporation board of directors meets to certify the solvency of the Grain Insurance Fund.

The fund exists to protect the Commonwealth’s grain producers from losing money should a grain business becomes financially insolvent after receiving a grower’s product but before issuing payment for it.

“In the event that a facility becomes unable to pay the producers for the grain that they have delivered, the farmers can make a claim to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture,” says John Cook, KDA’s executive director of Consumer and Environmental Protection. “The fund can then pay 80 to 100%, depending on the contractual agreement they had with the facility for the crop they delivered.”

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John Cook is flanked by grain inspector Carrie Pendleton and  legal counsel Joe Bibly.

“The sole purpose of this fund is protection of the farmers’ livelihood,” Cook affirms.

The fund was established by state statute in 1984 and is supported by an assessment of one-quarter of 1 percent of the value of grain purchased from producers. The fund must maintain a balance of at least $3 million and the assessment is not collected unless the balance falls below that threshold. The current balance is certified at $4.8 million so the assessment is not currently being collected.

“In the event that the fund drops below $3 million, we will start collecting the assessment again and will build the fund up to $10 million,” Cook said. “We haven’t collected on the fund for so long that the General Assembly and the board decided in 2009 that we would raise that fund up, in the event that we drop below $3 million, to better cover the farmers of Kentucky.”

The fund is invested by the state Office of Financial Management which has administrative responsibility for the investment and debt management functions of the Commonwealth. Returns on the investments are rolled over into the fund.

The fund has not been accessed to pay a claim since October 2000.

Recent events surrounding a canola processor with a new facility in western Kentucky have highlighted the necessity of the fund, even though it appears the situation may be resolved without state investment.

Cook addressed the insurance board and reported that, while Hart AgStrong canola and sunflower processing is being closely monitored, the Bowersville, Georgia company has not been declared a failure.

Nevin “Huck” Smith, an Atlanta-area attorney representing Hart AgStrong, appeared before the board with assurances that a plan is in development to pay a group of Kentucky farmers for their grain. Currently, some $2.2 million is owed to those producers. Smith says some payments are currently being made.

Smith reported that Hart AgStrong is currently in negotiations with unnamed outside firms to arrange either a stock purchase or a short-term loan coupled with an option to buy, which would bring approximately $4 million into the company.

“It has been absolutely clear and the company’s commitment has been that the first dollars in the door go to Kentucky farmers,” Smith told the board.

Smith said plans have been made for a meeting within the month to generate a binding letter of intent to solidify plans for financial arrangements that would pay the producers in full.

“We feel that we will be able to work with them to resolve the issue without having to activate the fund,” Cook said.

Kentucky monitoring Tennessee avian influenza cases

(First Appeared in the March 16 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture recently confirmed two occurrences of avian influenza. The first was a highly pathogenic strain, detected in a chicken breeder flock in Lincoln County.  Days later, a flock of chickens at a commercial poultry breeding operation in Giles County tested positive for low pathogenic avian influenza.

Kentucky state veterinarian Robert Stout says his office is monitoring the two cases, but has had no direct involvement with them.

stout - livestock standards“We haven’t had any direct involvement,” according to Stout. “USDA out of the Frankfort office has sent some personnel down there, but Tennessee hasn’t requested assistance and I think they have ample resources considering the scope of the investigation right now.”

“In layman’s terms, the high path virus causes death losses in a flock and they did experience that on two consecutive days in Lincoln County in the broiler breeder flock there,” Stout continued. “The other situation in Giles County is a low path event and is very different.”

Stout notes that there is also a low pathogenic event on a turkey operation in Wisconsin. However, he doesn’t expect any of these occurrences to affect chicken swaps or any other normal avian activities.

“This is a long way from what we experienced in 2015,” he assured. “The hope is that the lessons we learned from that are going to keep us from going down the path of a catastrophic situation like we had in 2015.”

Dr. Stout says the Tennessee episodes have occurred a little closer to home, but he has high praise for the way the Volunteer state has handled things. “They recognized the threat very early, they reacted within 48 hours and they limited the Lincoln County case to one house, even though they did depopulate the entire premises.”

“The company, Tennessee and USDA have done everything right and I have no reason to believe that the threat is elevated beyond what it was before this was recognized,” Stout concluded.

Even though neither of the Tennessee episodes poses a threat to human health or food safety, none of the affected animals entered the food chain. “The risk of a human becoming ill with avian influenza during poultry outbreaks is very low,” according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s web site. “However, out of an abundance of caution, officials with the Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Agriculture are working together to monitor the health of individuals who are working on either premises or had contact with affected birds.”

As a precaution, the affected flocks have been depopulated and buried. The premises are under quarantine. Domesticated poultry within a 6.2-mile radius of the site are also under quarantine and are being tested and monitored for illness. To date, all additional samples have tested negative for avian influenza and no other flocks within the area have shown signs of illness.

High pathogenic avian influenza was last found in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana in January 2016.

Cattlemen’s Boot Camp: back to the basics

(First Appeared in the March 2 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

Ninety beef producers representing nine different states, some as far away as Wyoming and Iowa, came together recently at the Fayette County Extension Office for a two-day Cattlemen’s Boot Camp, co-sponsored by the American Angus Association, the Angus Foundation and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The educational event offers a broad overview of Angus and commercial cattle production that helps growers begin to think more about the industry as a whole and how the various elements work together, rather than just the day to day challenges of raising beef cattle.

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Alex Tolbert and Chef Josh Moore watch a presentation by University of Kentucky meat scientist Greg Rentfrow

“A lot of people, myself included, we get wrapped up in what we’re doing every day to produce our animals,” according to Alex Tolbert of Harrodsburg, a regional manager for the American Angus Association. “Every decision we make affects our consumer and the quality of their eating experience. How does that affect my decisions at home?”

 

To that end, Boot Camp participants heard from chefs and meat scientists about the cuts and quality that consumers desire and expect. Veterinarians, animal scientists and nutrition and forage experts talked about those day to day issues of keeping an animal nourished and healthy. Then, marketing analysts and financial planners addressed the business aspects of raising and selling cattle.

Tolbert says that for many producers, especially those that are involved on a small scale, caring for their animals is something they enjoy, so they may not always think of it as a business.

“We’re really good at raising cattle or corn or whatever it is that we farm,” he observed. “A lot of times we don’t fully understand or master running a business.”

Situations like the current lull in cattle markets underscore the necessity of being more business-like in the management of beef operations, Tolbert said. “We go over the basics, kind of the general thought processes of developing a business plan to keep the bank off your back and stay in business another year.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service confirmed in a recent report that Kentucky continues to maintain the largest cattle inventory east of the Mississippi. Tolbert said that didn’t hurt when the Angus Association was considering where to hold one of this year’s two Boot Camps.

“We try to move them around to provide service and education for producers all over the country” he explained. “This is the largest one that we’ve had to date and part of that is because of where we are.”

While operations in western states are typically larger, the eastern U.S. boasts more individual producers. That, combined with the reputation and success of Kentucky’s extension service helped to attract participants, Tolbert said.

“These folks are eager to learn,” Tolbert noted. “They had to pay to come here and that shows their interest in learning more and becoming better at what they do.”

The second Cattlemen’s Boot Camp of 2017 will be April 27-28 at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

State Farm Bureau presidents hold second panel discussion at the 2017 National Farm Machinery Show

(First Appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

For the second straight year, Kentucky Farm Bureau used the National Farm Machinery Show as a backdrop for its Farm Bureau Presidents Panel discussion, moderated this year by AgriTalk radio’s Mike Adams.

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Kentucky president Mark Haney was on hand to field policy questions, as was Richard Guebert of Illinois Farm Bureau and Jeff Aiken of the Tennessee Farm Bureau. Kendall Culp of Indiana was also scheduled for the summit but was forced to cancel due to a detached retina.

As the panelists came to the stage, word arrived that Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt had received Senate confirmation as new head of the Environmental Protection Agency by a narrow vote of 52 to 46.

During the Obama administration, much of the agriculture community saw the EPA as their enemy due to policies that, the farmers felt, constituted egregious overreach.

“I think it’s great news for agriculture,” Aiken said, leading off the discussion. “Maybe we’ll get a little more common sense approach to the laws that the EPA is enforcing and hopefully get some relief for our farmers on some of the regulations that have been strangling us.”

Guebert then weighed in, saying that the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule imposed by the EPA is a big issue, not only for agriculture but for small businesses and rural communities.

The Renewable Fuels Standard is also an EPA matter that Guebert says his constituency are anxious to see addressed.

Kentucky’s Haney said that expectations are high regarding the course Scott Pruett will set for the EPA, but he feels the agency “is in good hands.”

Another of President Donald J. Trump’s choices, Agriculture secretary designee Sonny Perdue received approval from the trio. “With his background in agriculture and his understanding of the issues, as well as having served as Governor of Georgia, he’s a great choice to head USDA,” Aiken reflected.

“He really checks all the boxes,” agreed Haney. “He has an administration background, he has a science background as a veterinarian and he is certainly a good businessman who understands agriculture. I feel pretty comfortable about it.”

Even with his ag-friendly cabinet choices, President Trump’s first month on the job has left the Farm Bureau leaders with mixed emotions.dsc_6141

With the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the potential of a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA,) there is concern that some agricultural markets may suffer.

“We know that trade is the answer to low commodity prices,” observed Haney. He notes that any long-term arrangement, such as NAFTA, should be revisited occasionally. “If we can get a better deal, then we’ve got to look at that.”

“We look back over the years, the NAFTA agreement has done well for agriculture,” Guebert said. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ll have a better agreement but there will be anxiety until we get there.”

Immigration is another area where agriculture is at odds with the new President. “Our members are really looking forward to a good H2A visa program so that they can get the workers when they need them,” Guebert said. “Nothing is more disappointing than putting blood, sweat, and tears into a crop and then watching it rot in the fields because you can’t get the workers to harvest it.”

The Farm Bill expires September 30th, 2018, so talks will soon begin on the next one. That’s an area Farm Bureau is watching closely. “When the last Farm Bill was written, we were experiencing record corn prices, record bean prices, cattle prices were on the rise, everything looked good,” Aiken reflected. “This time, we’re looking at a totally different situation and it’s critical that we get a good Farm Bill.” Conservation issues seem to be a central rallying point as talks move forward.

“We have a lot of urban legislators that aren’t going to be familiar with ag issues,” Guebert observed. “We need to tell them our point of view and our concerns.

Hemp seminar series well attended

(First Appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

Recent seminars in Christian, Clark and Shelby counties on the basics of hemp production drew considerable interest, according to Tom Keene, an agronomy specialist who focuses on hemp and forages for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

tom-keeneKeene says the geographic diversity of the meetings reflects the interest in industrial hemp production across the state.

“In 2016, according to Kentucky Department of Agriculture statistics, hemp was produced in 60 of the 120 counties and they pretty much stretched from east to west and north to south.”

The meetings were a collaboration between the Kentucky Hemp Industries Association, Kentucky Hemp Research Foundation, UK Cooperative Extension Service and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

“This is a chance for folks that may not be in the program currently that are interested in looking (at hemp) long-term as another part of their rotation on their farm,” notes Brent Burchett, director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Division of Value-Added Plant Production. “We’ve also seen a lot of new people to agriculture come due to an interest in industrial hemp, so we’re excited about that.”

Topics on the agenda included hemp marketing, hemp agronomics, the KDA’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program and KDA policies. “We go through KDA’s rules, the hemp program operations, a little bit of the long-term aspects of the industry, some of the uncertainties we’re dealing with and some of the challenges of growing so fast, so quickly,” Burchett added.

“Commissioner (Ryan) Quarles has said he is committed to looking at all the aspects of the industry and the plant,” Burchett continued.

Historically, hemp was grown in Kentucky for products like rope and ship sail material prior to World War I. Following the second world war, availability of inexpensive synthetic fiber further discouraged the growth of the crop.hemp-crowd

“We shouldn’t presume that we’re going to have the same types of industries that our grandads did,” Burchett observed.

Burchett says the Department is excited to have approved 12,800 acres for inclusion in the pilot program this year, up from 4,600 acres in 2016.

Both Burchett and Keene stress that this is still a heavily regulated and monitored project. Not just anyone can go out and plant a field of hemp.

“Industrial hemp is still a schedule one controlled substance,” Burchett advises. “That’s the same list that includes heroin, morphine, cocaine and other illicit drugs.”

Burchett stresses that it’s a serious undertaking to import seed and check it in with KDA before growers receive it. When planted, producers must submit the exact GPS coordinates for the crop.

“So, imagine, 12,800 acres will have to be physically visited by the Department staff this year,” Burchett said.

“This is still an illegal crop,” Keene emphasizes. “Unless you are part of the pilot project, it is still an illegal crop to grow.”

Tobacco Settlement money still has a major impact on Kentucky agriculture

(First Appeared in the Feb. 16 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

In 1962, singer Hank Snow rose to the top of the country music charts with a song called “I’ve Been Everywhere,” a rapid-fire recollection of the cities the singer claimed to have visited.

Warren Beeler, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy, seems to be re-writing the tune’s lyrics with a Kentucky twist.tobacco-settlement-meeting

Appearing with his deputy director Bill McCloskey before the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee, Beeler started out his report with an impressive list of the places he has visited and spoken since taking the GOAP Reins last year.

The Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy provides grants, incentives and low-interest loans to help farmers and agribusinesses innovate and grow.

“Bill McCloskey runs the office and I run the roads, promoting the programs and promoting agriculture,” Beeler told the state senators and representatives that make up the committee. “The Governor calls me the ‘Ag Evangelist’ and he’s pretty close, I’d say.”

As he presented the annual report to the legislators, Beeler pointed out that there were many success stories profiled in the document. “I suspect that there might be one that’s close to you, or in your district,” he noted.

Several new programs have been implemented by GOAP including plans to address one of the major problems facing Kentucky agriculture, an aging participant base.

“The biggest concern I hear when I travel is that young farmers are having trouble getting this money,” Beeler noted. To find ways to solve that problem, a new program was launched in Washington County called Next Generation CAIP (County Agricultural Investment Program.) Under the initiative, a county has the discretion to dedicate funds to assist applicants who have operated and shared in the financial risk of a farming operation for at least 3 years but not more than 7 years.

“It’s an opportunity for the young farmers, who probably need the money the most,” said Beeler. “They still have to score high enough (on the application) but it is a county decision. We never tell the counties how to spend their money.”

Similarly, there is money for youth projects like heifer chains or the popular country ham curing project, which saw more than 800 participants at the 2016 Kentucky State Fair who cured hams and prepared and delivered remarks on their experience. The youth projects encourage young people to continue their interest and engagement in agricultural pursuits.

Beeler also told the committee that his agency would like to recruit summer interns. “It’s not as much for us as it is for them,” he explained. “Coming from the Department of Agriculture, I’m a big believer that you can make little ag monsters out of these youngsters if you give them to us for 2 or three months.”

Senator Robin Webb has been with the Oversight Committee since its creation to watchdog the use of Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement money.

Webb emphasized, especially to the newly elected members of the committee, that the Settlement Agreement Fund needs to be protected.

“I just feel compelled as the only one standing here that was in on the ground floor of this thing to remind everybody that this is, to me, sacred ground,” Webb stated following the reports. She pointed to the fact that she, like many others in the Commonwealth, once depended on and benefited from the revenue created by tobacco production, especially in her native eastern Kentucky. “Now we don’t have that for my farmers.”

“I felt compelled to have a little history lesson and remind everybody of the importance of what we’re doing here,” she said.

Kentucky has been a model for expenditure of the funds coming into the Commonwealth from the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, negotiated by 46 state attorneys general with the Big Four tobacco companies. The Commonwealth budgeted 50 percent of the settlement for agricultural programs and agricultural diversification. Twenty-five percent of the funds were dedicated to early childhood development, while the remaining 25 percent went to public health programs to deal with problems perceived to be tobacco-related.

Cattlemen get overview of new administration from NCBA analyst

(This article first appeared in the February 2, 2017 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

 The Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association began their 2017 convention on the eve of the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump and a policy issues update from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association gave them an impression of what they might see over the next four years.colin-woodall

“It’s been an interesting week in Washington D.C., with a little ceremony going on tomorrow,” quipped Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at NCBA regarding the inauguration. Of the new President, Woodall acknowledged the role rural voters had in the election, noting that “American agriculture showed up in force to put him over the goal line.”

Woodall cautioned his audience to have realistic expectations about any changes that might be ahead, warning that “even though President Trump was elected for four years, he doesn’t necessarily have four years to deliver on his promises.” Currently, there is a Republican majority in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. However, in two years, one-third of the Senate and the entire House will be up for re-election. Should voters be disappointed with their national representation, Woodall said major shifts could take place in the makeup of both houses, creating a less favorable legislative environment for the President’s agenda.

Just before Woodall took the KCA convention stage, it was announced that former Georgia governor George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III would be the final cabinet pick as nominee for the post of Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA.)

Woodall pointed to Perdue’s varied experience growing up in a farm family before becoming an air force captain, an elected official and a veterinarian, as well as an entrepreneur building businesses in grain trading and trucking.

“He understands policy, he understands agriculture and I think he’s going to bring a lot to the table to help us address some of the issues that we’re dealing with right now,” Woodall said.

One of those issues which has become a vigorously debated topic is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which the President has already addressed with a Presidential memorandum withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement, making its ratification virtually impossible.

While conditions of the agreement may have been favorable to the beef industry and other facets of U.S. agriculture, some economists were concerned that the agreement would adversely affect the signatories. Alternative trade strategies are currently being explored on several fronts. Woodall questioned, “If it’s not TPP, then what is it?”

Regulatory matters, such as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule are a major concern to both the agriculture community and the new administration.

WOTUS has been hotly contested by agriculture from the beginning as an egregious overreach of government enforcement that sought no input from stakeholders and paid little heed to the concerns of farmer and ranchers.

According to the whitehouse.gov website, “Eliminate the Waters of the U.S. rule” heads the list of Trump administration energy and environment policy positions. According to the site, “our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”

“We cannot afford for this thing (WOTUS) to go forward,” Woodall commented. “If it does, there will be a lot of people that just aren’t going to be in agriculture anymore.”

Woodall mentioned other matters, such as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and tax reform, all of which will impact the future of agriculture.

Time will tell how those issues will be resolved and what level of influence may be felt by the agriculture community, but Woodall concluded his remarks on an optimistic note, saying “we have a lot of opportunities to make things better for us.”

Convention-goers also had ample education opportunities, incorporating the Beef Efficiency Conference and forages overview from the University of Kentucky.

The convention was gaveled to a close by newly-installed KCA president Chuck Crutcher of Rineyville.

Quarles addresses 2017 Fruit and Vegetable Conference

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Commissioner Quarles visits with Jeremy Hinton, former president of the Kentucky State Horticultural Society

Ryan Quarles didn’t make it to the first day of the 2016 Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference on January 4. You see, he was a little busy being sworn in as Kentucky’s new Commissioner of Agriculture that day.

Quarles made up for it in 2017 by being at the conference bright and early on the first day, January 10, to reflect on his first year in office and share some insights on what lies ahead for his department, specifically those related directly to the event attendees.

“Besides consistent income for farmers, I think the biggest issue nationwide is that we have a populace that just doesn’t know how food gets on their dinner table,” Quarles observed. He says his department has taken and will continue to take an aggressive and proactive approach to reminding Kentuckians of their rural and agricultural roots.
“We’re fortunate to come from a state that has deep traditions, a deep history and heritage of roots firmly planted in the common clay of Kentucky,” he said.

Quarles challenged his audience to not just expect government, commodity groups or professional educators to carry the message. He encouraged them to seize the opportunity to tell their story, particularly at venues like farmers’ markets. “You can’t have a sophisticated conversation if people don’t know the difference between a soybean and a green bean,” he quipped.

A priority of his department, Quarles noted, is to take a “deep dive” into the future of Kentucky Proud and how that program can continue to succeed and grow. He cited the program as a priority of the Agriculture Development fund and pledged that efforts would continue to assure that those funds are distributed appropriately and that they have a direct farm impact. “The last economic study I saw said that, for every dollar that is invested in Kentucky Proud, about $2.94 comes back. We want to make sure that if there is room for more efficiencies we’re going to find it and that it really does connect our farmers with our markets.”

A major thrust of the Department of Agriculture since early in Quarles’ administration has been reduction of food insecurity for less fortunate citizens of the Commonwealth. “If we are going to have a public policy position that we need to increase the amount of food that goes into our food banks or goes to our food pantries, that food needs to come from Kentucky farmers,” Quarles said.

Quarles told the group he would like to see programs like Farms to Food Banks become more robust to benefit farmers as well as those who are recipients of the produce. According to the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, Farms to Food Banks provides fresh, healthy produce to Kentuckians in need while reducing losses for farmers. Slightly less than wholesale prices are paid for Kentucky-grown surplus and Number 2 grade produce (perfectly edible but not saleable on the retail market) and distribute it at no cost to struggling Kentuckians through the food bank network.

The commissioner also renewed his pledge to attempt to keep the politics out of agriculture. “We’re already too small a constituency to divide ourselves with partisan politics,” he emphasized.

On the topic of politics, Quarles pointed out that one-quarter of the members of the Kentucky House of Representatives are brand new. He urged producers living in an area under new representation to invite those fresh faces out to the farm or to the farmers’ markets to express to them firsthand what agriculture means to the Commonwealth and to the individual farmer.

“The worst thing you can do is make the assumption that they know,” Quarles said.

To highlight the importance of the conference, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture recently posted on their Facebook page that, according to the most recent available figures “Fruit sales in KY totaled $12.3 million in 2014. And cash receipts for veggies and melons were approx. $31.4 million.”

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