State Board of Agriculture approves Checkoff MOU with Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association

(A version of this article appears in the October 4, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

One of the duties of the Kentucky State Board of Agriculture is oversight of the ten promotional programs that have been created by statute and are administered by commodity groups. These programs are more commonly referred to as check-offs, which derive their funding from assessments on the sale of agricultural products in the Commonwealth.

At the September meeting of the board, the Kentucky Poultry Federation and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association presented reports on their promotional efforts.

Jaime Guffey, Executive Director of the Kentucky Poultry Federation, presented a concise yet thorough report of his organization’s promotional efforts, which the board approved.  However, the report from the KCA sought the assistance of the Ag Board in preemptively addressing a problem facing 14 other state beef cattle associations.

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Dave Maples, Kelly Tucker and Kiah Twisselman address state Board of Agriculture

“Our office has been basically turned upside down in the last two months,” KCA Executive Vice President Dave Maples told the board.

The cause of the disruption and concern was a lawsuit filed against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), questioning the constitutionality of the Montana Beef Council program using producer funds to subsidize the message of a private organization. The initial suit was filed in Montana federal district court on May 2, 2016. An injunction was issued in June of 2017 prevented the Montana Beef Council from utilizing the state’s half of federal checkoff dollars.

R-CALF moved in August of this year to expand the injunction to include Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.

“We were not included because we have had state law since 1976,” Maples continued. That legislation covers the Kentucky Beef Council’s use of both the federal and state check-off funds.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the board and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association was introduced at the board’s quarterly meeting to further clarify the state oversight of the promotion program.

“Montana and the other states that don’t have a state law are going through this process with UDSA,” Maples said. “Since we have state law, our leadership thought it would be better to come here (to the state board) than to USDA.” Maples added that the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association enjoys a positive working relationship with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, adding that other state associations may not have that relationship with their state ag agencies.

“We’re just trying to be proactive,” Maples observed. “I think we’ve been proactive with our legislation and what we’ve done in the past, which is why we’re not included in this lawsuit.”

“(The MOU) is above and beyond the statute, but due to the lawsuit, it’s taking a step to keep Kentucky from being drug into it,” noted Keith Rogers, Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Chief of Staff.

The board gave its approval to the measure and the following day the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association approved the document.

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LAND links Ag, manufacturing sectors

(A version of this article appears in the October 4, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

 The agriculture community works hard to overcome misinformation and misconceptions among consumers about how their products are produced, but it’s possible that some of those communication hurdles might also exist among their partners in the business and manufacturing sectors.

To promote dialog and information exchange, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) and the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers (KAM) scheduled LAND (Linking Agriculture for Networking and Development) forums across the Commonwealth last year and followed up with five more sessions this summer.

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“A lot of times, we don’t appreciate the impact that our farmers have until we start hearing stories,” Kentucky agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles told a group gathered recently at the Jeptha Creed Distillery near Shelbyville. “We have a great story to tell.”

The stories flowed freely, as a variety of agricultural interests told their individual stories and participated in panel discussions at the meeting.

Creation Gardens vice president John Thomas led off the morning’s discussion, explaining that the company began serving local products to restaurants in the Louisville area in 1997 with one employee and a van. The Louisville-based company now serves 5 regions in three states.

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Rebecca Self

Lexington non-profit FoodChain founder and executive director Rebecca Self followed, explaining their role as an educational outlet as well as a food provider, boasting the Commonwealth’s largest indoor “farm,” utilizing aquaponic systems to yield fresh fish and green produce year-round.

Chad Rosen of Victory Hemp in Henry County gave an overview of the growing hemp industry in Kentucky, with a focus toward development of a crop that is currently grown in approved research plots into a viable, mainstream commodity.

Brian Lawless of Alltech closed out the morning’s session with an overview of the global corporation’s growth and the diversity of products it is responsible for.

A Kentucky Proud lunch was catered by executive chef Josh Moore and Volare Restaurant from Louisville.

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Caleb Ragland with Tim Hughes, Kentucky Department of Agriculture

The afternoon sessions followed suit, with farms being the focus as attendees heard from Caleb Ragland of Shady Rest Farm in Larue County, Amanda Gajdzik of Mulberry Orchard in Shelby County, Doug Langley of Langley Farms (Kentucky’s Sunbelt Farmer of the Year), and Joyce Netherly of event host Jeptha Creed Distillery and Netherly family farms.

The LAND forums began in June of this year with sessions at the Boone County Cooperative Extension Enrichment Center in Burlington and the London Community Center. August meetings were held in Cave City and Murray, with the series winding up in Shelbyville September 26.

Commissioner Quarles told the group, made up of representatives from agriculture, manufacturing, government and educational sectors, that they all have a great deal in common and meetings like this provide an opportunity to discuss those commonalities.

The meetings are funded by regional sponsors with assistance from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, administered by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and the Governor’s Office of Agriculture policy.

 

Poultry Education Center opens

(A version of this article appears in theAugust 2, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

When Ohio County farmer Daniel Hayden met his bride-to-be Danielle Beard at Oklahoma State University just over four years ago, Danielle had some negative views of the poultry industry. Having limited exposure to the business, her perception was shaped largely by myth and misinformation. Daniel had lived around poultry operations for most of his life, so he set about the task of reversing some of those notions and bringing Danielle home to Whitesville and having her see the real thing for herself completely changed her opinion of the industry.

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The young couple realized that the best way to convince someone that poultry production is safe and humane when done properly was to show them, first hand. The idea came full circle in mid-July when the ribbon was snipped, and the Poultry Education Center at Hayden Farms opened its doors to a waiting public.

first tourA visit to the center starts at the project’s headquarters, a building containing offices and classroom/meeting room space where individuals and groups can be introduced to the techniques of modern chicken farming. The information is worthwhile, but what really brings the point across is a visit to the specially outfitted broiler house where visitors can see, up close, how well the birds are being treated.

Biosecurity has always been the limiting factor when it comes to allowing people to see things for themselves, according to Kentucky Poultry Federation Executive Director Jamie Guffey. At the Hayden’s facility, visitors enter a viewing room equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide safe, controlled exposure to the birds. Personal contact is prohibited for the health and safety of the birds, but visitors can watch the birds do the four things that are necessary for a healthy chicken, according to specialists from Perdue Farms: eat, drink, rest and play. Perdue Farms contracts with the Haydens to produce the birds and partners with them in the education efforts.

family“We hope to provide accurate, observable information to consumers and decision makers about how these birds are grown and the care and attention they receive,” Daniel says. He notes that, often, decisions are made that impact the industry on the state and national level, based solely on anecdotal evidence that may not provide accurate information on the attention to animal welfare that is paid by most poultry producers. “We’d like to give them the opportunity to see for themselves,” he said.

DSC_9439“This is a historic effort, and we’re pleased to be a part of it,” Said Warren Beeler, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Agriculture Policy, which provided some of the funding for the venture. They join the Kentucky Soybean Board and the Kentucky Corn Growers, along with several other agriculture and commodity groups in partnering with the Haydens to make their dream a reality.

“I just think it’s an amazing investment,” Beeler continued. “I hope it’s contagious and it moves over into other segments of agriculture, so the public can really understand that we’re doing it better than we’ve ever done it, we learn something every day and we’re just going to get better and better.”dsc_9419-e1533583782506.jpg

Quarles discusses trade at state Chamber of Commerce meeting

(A version of this article appears in the August 2, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

As Congress considered legislation to moderate the Trump administration’s aggressive trade measures, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce was holding its 13th Annual Business Summit and Annual Meeting in Louisville.

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Kentucky Agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles participated in a panel discussion entitled “Trade, Tariffs, and Kentucky’s Economy” as a part of the meeting. Quarles was joined on the panel by John Murphy senior vice president for international policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Rocco Rossi, president, and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Dave Tatman, executive director, Kentucky Auto Industry Association. Chamber senior vice president for public affairs, Ashli Watts, served as moderator.

“For every action in trade, there is a reaction,” observed John Murphy. “Tariffs have been applied to about $40 billion in steel and aluminum imports and one of the reactions is that steel prices are up about 40 percent and aluminum is up about 130 percent. If you’re in the manufacturing industry or construction and you use that, there’s a huge effect.” Beyond that, Murphy says, other governments start to retaliate with their own tariffs, as has already proven to be the case.

Concern about economic fallout from these actions have spurred the congressional interest and have increased anxiety in the agriculture community, where money is already tight.

quarles trade panel“It’s so important to realize that, as farmers, we’re price takers, not price makers,” Commissioner Quarles said. “We’re about six weeks out from harvest. Farmers are anxious, but they are also understanding that there are unfair trade policies.” Quarles noted that foreign trading partners regularly hold the United States to higher standards than the rest of the world, creating an unfair advantage for our competitors.

“For me, at the state level, I’m trying to be active and aggressive,” Quarles continued, mentioning a trip to Canada in June to meet with Kentucky native and United States Ambassador Kelly Craft and discuss the Commonwealth’s connection with its trade partners. “It’s very important for us to maintain access, but also to have clear regulatory rules.”

Reflecting on the visit in June from USDA undersecretary for trade Ted McKinney, Quarles pointed to some successes that are currently being overshadowed by more negative trade implications. “As the undersecretary noted, you can’t hit a home run every time. There’s a lot of singles and doubles that are not being mentioned in the press right now.” Quarles noted that, for the first time ever, American farmers can export rice to China and for the first time in 13 years, American beef can now be sold there.

“Another thing we need to realize is how much of a world market is left virtually untapped,” Quarles added. He noted that of the 200 recognized countries across the globe, only about 20 have trade agreements with the United States. “For me, there’s a big market out there that has yet to be accessed. I know that there is some hurt going on right now, but I’m sort of an optimist on this topic and there is a bigger pie out there that we have yet to go after.”

USDA undersecretary talks trade in Kentucky

(A version of this article appears in the June 21, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

by Ray Bowman

 United States Department of Agriculture undersecretary for trade Ted McKinney came to Lexington to speak to the 2018 state FFA convention but managed to work in a couple of other stops in the process.

McKinney addressed a meeting of the Kentucky Agriculture Council and joined the Commonwealth’s ag commissioner Ryan Quarles for a roundtable discussion on the current tumultuous international trade situation at the Limestone Café at Keeneland’s sale pavilion.

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USDA undersecretary for trade Ted McKinney and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles field questions from Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

“Agriculture is completely dependent on foreign markets,” Quarles stated as he opened the session. “The American farmer, and more importantly the Kentucky farmer is so efficient in what they do that we depend upon selling our products outside the United States to be successful.”

“I think we’re at a very fascinating time that many case studies will be written about what I call ‘right-sizing’ or making adjustments in trade,” McKinney said about the trade negotiations that are ongoing with some of the country’s largest trading partners.

“There’s a lot of anxiety out there” McKinney continued. He also noted that there are quite a few imbalances that have, for some time, needed to be addressed.

“We have our markets pretty much wide open,” McKinney said. “Tariffs are low, and if you meet the goals on food safety and equivalency and livestock and poultry, bring it on in. We are free traders, for the most part.”

“It is not that way around the world,” he continued. “It’s probably time, and long overdue, for an adjustment, and that’s what we’re going through.”

McKinney pointed to the barriers to trade created by fears our partners profess about perceived issues with the uncertainty of seed technologies and diseases in poultry and livestock and admitted that there is a lot to fix.

“It probably would have been folly for us to have thought that it would be an easy thing to say to those countries ‘would you please stop doing that’ and not have to have some sort of enforcement and not feel some pain in return. I think that’s what we’re doing.”

“Do I believe that President Trump has our back?” McKinney rhetorically asked. “Yes, I do. I do also believe the president when he said he would not let agriculture be the ‘tip of the spear’ and suffer the consequences on what we do on trade.”

McKinney says he bases that belief on what he has experienced first-hand as well as assurances from his current boss, USDA secretary Sonny Perdue and from “my former boss, a guy named Pence.” McKinney served as agriculture director in Indiana during vice president Mike Pence’s term as governor.

Foreign trade has been a hot-button issue since the beginning of the current administration. On January 23, 2017, three days after his inauguration, Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum to withdraw the United States’ signature from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, making its ratification virtually impossible.

In July 2017 the administration began the process of re-evaluating and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

American farmers fear that potential changes to these and other trade policies currently under consideration by the Trump administration could adversely impact the industry.

Some farmers find little to celebrate during June Dairy Month

(A version of this article appears in the June 7, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

by Ray Bowman

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Greg Goode of Casey County brought one of his cows to the Capitol lawn for the June Dairy Month proclamation signing

After a morning of intermittent thunderstorms, dark clouds still scudded up and down the Kentucky River as preparations were being made on the state capitol lawn for the proclaiming of June Dairy Month in Kentucky. The uncertainty of the day’s weather seemed to mirror the mood of the Commonwealth’s dairy industry, as some 19 of the state’s nearly 600 dairy farm families faced the loss of their milk contracts, and for most, their lifestyle and livelihood.

In February, Dean’s Milk notified it’s Kentucky contractors, and many in other states, of the cancellation of their contracts as of the end of April. Dean’s has subsequently extended the contracts through June, but for many farmers the extension was too little, too late.

The day the extension letter came, Henry County dairyman David Taylor had just shipped several of his cows to a buyer from Indiana and was waiting on a truck to pick up another load. “It just gives us more time to get the cows moved,” Taylor said of the extension.

It was impossible to ignore the weariness and deep sadness in Taylor’s voice as he said he had hoped other companies might be willing to pick up the contracts, but no one came through. Now, it’s too late.

A third-generation dairyman, Taylor has been in the business 41 years. He had hoped his two sons, Brad and Matt, would continue in the business. They’ve now taken off-farm jobs as the family considers their options for the future.

Taylor says he’s looking into the possibility of raising replacement heifers for larger dairies. Beef cattle and feeder calves are also under consideration, as Taylor examines the current layout and infrastructure of his operation and how it might be most effectively utilized.

“We didn’t create this problem and we can’t fix it. We just have to deal with it,” observes Brad Taylor.

This isn’t the first time the Taylor’s have been forced to make a mid-course correction. Three years ago, the family also raised 20 to 30 thousand pounds of tobacco on contract. That contract was terminated as well.

Despite the clouds, the distant roll of thunder off to the south, and the threat of rain, the sun briefly shone bright on the Kentucky capitol as agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles introduced governor Matt Bevin. Bevin tried to maintain the celebratory feel of the occasion, but he did not try to ignore the problems at hand.

dsc_9162.jpg“It’s not easy at this time, and I understand it,” said the former 4-H and FFA member who spent some of his formative years milking cows. “We are trying to find a solution to what is affecting so many of you in the dairy industry.”

“We were hoping we would have something to be able to announce to you today, but we don’t, which is heartbreaking” the Governor continued. “That isn’t to say that there won’t be, we just don’t have it yet. We’re turning over every stone to try and find an outlet for the product that you produce.”

Bevin indicated that commissioner Quarles and Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy executive director Warren Beeler, along with Maury Cox of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, are diligently working to find some answers, but the complexity of the current dairy industry structure makes it difficult.

“Some of it is far beyond our control, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking for some avenue through which those farmers who are still producing milk in this state can find a market at a price that justifies their continuation,” Governor Bevin said.

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Farmers, students, ag leaders and friends join Governor Bevin in a milk salute to commemorate June Dairy Month

“It’s an amazing industry,” Beeler observed. “I have a soft spot for it because I was raised in it.”

Like the dark clouds over the Kentucky River, rumors about the future of the dairy industry continue to swirl. “There’s too many rumors floating around to know what to believe,” David Taylor admitted.

More milk to flow to food banks

(A version of this article appears in the June 7, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

by Ray Bowman

Doug Ackerman, CEO of The Dairy Alliance, says the average family that is food insecure only gets about a gallon of milk a year.

“The need is great,” Ackerman said. Along with the nutrition provided by drinking milk, Ackerman says it’s needed for many of the foods that are prepared at home. “One gallon of milk for a family for a year just doesn’t cut it.”dsc_9070.jpg

Ackerman recently joined Kentucky agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles and dairy industry representatives in Winchester at one of the God’s Pantry distribution centers to announce steps being taken to help improve the flow of milk to needy families.

A major impediment to the provision of fluid milk in the past has been lack of storage capability for the very perishable product. The Dairy Alliance hopes to help the situation with a $30,000 grant to God’s Pantry Food Bank to provide seven milk coolers to store fresh milk for four affiliate food pantries in Winchester and Lexington-Fayette County. The grant was awarded in conjunction with The Alliance’s Milk 2 My Plate initiative and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Hunger Initiative.

The Dairy Alliance is a nonprofit funded by dairy farm families of the Southeast, whose mission is, in part, to provide the public with accurate information about dairy foods. The Atlanta-based organization serves dairy farm families in nine states; Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

In addition to assisting food insecure families, commissioner Quarles hopes the project will provide a small but much-needed boost for an industry that is currently struggling. “Our hard-working dairy farm families will get a new market for their products,” Quarles noted.quarles milk edit

“We’ve had some great wins over the past two years with our Kentucky Hunger Initiative, but milk’s a little bit different,” the commissioner continued. “Milk is Kentucky’s official drink, but due to its perishability, it has always been difficult to develop a program to provide access to it.”

“Kentucky is blessed to have almost 600 dairy farms, and we’re always looking for additional markets. With this particular program, the dairy farmers and the processors that participate do get compensated for production costs, which allows them to provide milk to their neighbors who are less fortunate.”

Quarles said he hopes Kentucky continues to have the reputation of being on the cutting edge in dealing with the problem of food insecurity and he is happy to see that the dairy industry has a solid place in the effort to chip away at hunger in the Commonwealth.dsc_9060.jpg

The pilot project currently provides 60 gallons of milk a week to the food bank, but God’s Pantry CEO Michael Halligan is hoping to increase volume over time.

“God’s Pantry food banks serves Central and Eastern Kentucky where about a quarter of a million people are at risk of hunger,” Halligan stated. “This pilot program will help us initiate, build and sustain a consistent flow of milk to those in need.”

USDA Secretary visits Kentucky

(A version of this article appears in the April 19, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

Sonny Perdue made it clear from the beginning that he was more interested in listening than talking.

 

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Montgomery County FFA students greet USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue at the Chenault Agriculture Center near Mount Sterling

 

The Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture recently made a two-day sweep through the northeastern and central portions of the Commonwealth as a part of his “Back to Our Roots Tour,” visiting farms, attending public listening sessions and participating in panel discussions to learn first-hand the concerns of producers, consumers and agriculture industry leaders. He was joined by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles for stops in Mason, Rowan and Montgomery Counties before winding up at Keeneland in Lexington.

Perdue’s appearance and demeanor were less of a Washington politician and more of the folksy, down-home favorite uncle just stopping by for a visit. He was open and friendly, and his audiences responded to him in-kind, repeatedly thanking him for coming and remarking that it has been a long time since the USDA was lead by someone with his farming background and credentials.

Perdue’s staff passed out cards at each stop, providing information on how to contact the Secretary’s office by phone or through the website www.usda.gov/tellsonny.DSC_9006

“We’re serious about this,” Perdue told an audience at the Chenault Agriculture Center in Mt. Sterling, a 300-acre working farm operated by Montgomery County High School. “That’s why I’m out here traveling. We’re coming to the ground floor and saying ‘what are the impediments, what are the barriers, what are the regulatory issues.’”DSC_8986

Perdue said that dealing with onerous regulations has been a major focus of his administration, noting that “in this environment, deregulation – taking regulations off – is about as difficult as putting them on and it takes much too long, in my opinion.”

Kentucky native Rebeckah Adcock, a senior advisor at USDA and former Director of Natural Resources at Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, has been tasked with examining regulations and expediting the changes the Department wants to make. “We’re on track to have upwards of $70 million in savings,” Adcock said, referring to the 90-plus actions already identified with possibly more to come. “We’ll be at this process, trying to systemically change how we do business and how we regulate.”

At a listening session at Hinton Mills in May’s Lick, Perdue got just what he was asking for from Kentucky Soybean Association President Larry Thomas. Thomas shared concerns about what many considered the elephant in the room, President Trump’s tariff and trade spat with China, which could potentially affect a number of American agricultural exports, among them, soybeans and pork.

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Montgomery County sorghum farmer Danny Townsend shows his operation to Sec. Perdue, Congressman Andy Barr, and Kentucky ag commissioner Ryan Quarles

 

“Talks with the President are ongoing, and the Secretary doesn’t want to show his hand just yet,” Thomas said in a phone interview. “Secretary Perdue said that the President has given him his word that he won’t forget agriculture in the trade talks.”

Perdue was listening. He didn’t offer any magic elixirs or silver bullets to solve the many challenges currently facing agriculture, he only wanted to know what the stakeholders considered their priorities.

The stops along the Secretary’s tour were many and varied, as were the topics that arose in the various discussions that took place. Rural broadband, struggles in the dairy industry, the future of Kentucky’s hemp projects and clean, available water were but a few of the topics broached with Perdue as he made his circuit.

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Sec. Perdue’s wife Mary joined him for the tour

 

Perdue’s quick wit and affable nature were on display as well. Visiting with Danny Townsend at Townsend’s Sorghum Mill in Montgomery County, the Secretary was impressed with the number of products being made from the grain. He inquired if Townsend had ever considered manufacturing any hair care products.

Both men are bald.

Interest in Hemp production growing

(A version of this article appears in the April 19, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

Judging from the turnout at the 2018 Kentucky Hemp Industries Association annual meeting, interest in producing the controversial crop is continuing to grow. The meeting, held at the Fayette County extension office, drew a capacity crowd consisting of participants currently engaged in the industry and newcomers seeking to learn more about the possibilities of the historically significant yet still-experimental business.

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“I get excited when I get to work with the hemp industry because you all are energized; you are literally the tip of the spear and the rest of the nation continues to look at Kentucky as the epicenter, for what’s next in industrial hemp,” Kentucky agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles told the enthusiastic group.

The commissioner continued by offering a little historical and personal perspective.

“In the year 1900, 75 percent of the hemp grown in the United States came from the nine counties that surround Lexington,” Quarles reflected. “My great-grandfather grew industrial hemp on the banks of the Kentucky River during World War II. While my grandfather served as a Marine in the Pacific, my great-grandfather was supporting the war effort by growing hemp where the Elkhorn Creek flows into the Kentucky.”

Currently in the commonwealth, 210 growers have applied for permits to grow hemp and there are 52 registered processors in the Commonwealth, up 20 percent in just the last year according to Quarles.

 

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Steve Downs (right) with Dr. Will Snell, UK Ag economist

One of those producers is Marion County cattleman Steve Downs.

 

“This will be our second year for hemp. Last year we had a permit for 14 acres, but due to problems finding plants or seed we were only able to plant 3 acres,” Downs said. “We had a good turnout on the crop.”

“The permit is for 24 acres this year,” Downs continued. “We’re still waiting to see how much we can actually put out.”

A former tobacco producer, Downs sees hemp as a viable alternative but not necessarily a replacement. “Seems like the people you talk to that are trying it are having good luck with it. There’s a market there and it shows a lot of promise.”

University of Kentucky agriculture economist and assistant professor Dr. Tyler Mark is currently conducting some research on cost of production, how the crop will fit in to Kentucky’s overall agricultural landscape and what types of consumers are currently purchasing hemp-based products. There’s little data at this point so Mark says potential producers need to be prepared to incur some risk.

“Some producers may be out on a limb trying to find that golden ticket,” Mark said. “You have to be willing to lose whatever you put into the crop, because it may or may not pan out. There’s no crop insurance, there’s no safety net to this. You’re purely at your own risk and it is self-financed.”

As Commissioner Quarles points out the greatest current barrier to the potential success of the industry is federal law. “At this point, it is appropriate to recommend to congress that we legalize this crop, open the floodgates and give it the respect that it once had, back when it was a legal crop.”

Recently Senator Mitch McConnell was at the Department of Agriculture to announce plans to introduce the Hemp Farm Act of 2018. “First and foremost, this bill will finally legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances,” McConnel said. “We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become, sometime in the future, what burley tobacco was in Kentucky’s past.”

“We in agriculture are always looking for that replacement crop that we can grow profitably, because every time there’s stress on commodity prices, as there are now, we’re looking for a better way,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said on his recent sweep through the Bluegrass. “We’ve seen the American spirit alive and well in farmers because they are practical innovators. I think hemp has proven to be an economically valuable industrial crop and I think you’ll see policy follow that.”

The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp for research purposes.

Kentucky Cattlemen’s ground beef goes to market

(A version of this article appears in the April 5, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

by Ray Bowman

DSC_8805Kroger stores across the Commonwealth have a new feature in the meat case. Kentucky Cattlemen’s Ground Beef is now available in 85 Kentucky supermarkets.

However, Steve Doan, general counsel for the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, said in an announcement at Kroger’s Beaumont Center store in Lexington that this project is about more than local beef on Kroger shelves.

“For the last 18 years, the Kentucky Ag Development Board and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association have worked hand in hand to make Kentucky the best beef cattle state this side of the Mississippi,” Doan said. “This project represents the years of hard work it takes to raise a quality product on such a large scale.

Doan also recognized The Chop Shop in Wolfe County, which processes the beef for the project, and Creation Gardens, a regional distributor that packages and distributes the products.

DSC_8762“We now have the knowledge of what it takes to get a Kentucky-grown product from the farm to the grocery store, then to the dinner plate,” Doan stated.

Spencer County cattleman Nathan Lawson is a manager for Beef Solutions, LLC, the company owned by the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association which was developed to provide a method for Kentucky’s cattle producers to enter the market for locally produced and marketed ground beef.

“Many families, like mine, are proud to have the opportunity to work for their friends and their neighbors to provide a product that can be purchased just down the street,” Lawson beamed.

“Kentucky is the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles reiterated. “For us to keep that food local and help demonstrate that we can not only breed it here, feed it here, process it but also serve it, that’s going to open the flood gates for opportunities for other Kentucky farmers.”

DSC_8769“We’re excited that Kroger has taken the first big step,” Quarles continued. “We hope that when consumers vote with their taste buds, opportunities will open up for larger plants and more processing in Kentucky so that this product can be served across the board in restaurants and other grocery stores. It’s all about demonstrating that we can disrupt the business model and keep that beef local.”

The official unveiling of Kentucky Cattlemen’s Ground Beef took place in Lexington and in the Eastgate store in Middletown on March 20, National Agriculture Day, and Quarles remarked “I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate it.”

DSC_8763For now, the beef is available in one-pound packages and in two-pound packages with four patties each. Competitive pricing is designed to fall between store label ground beef and currently available specialty products.

Kroger spokesperson Erin Grant said the chain takes great pride in Kentucky farm families.

“We are thrilled to see the project come to fruition and to offer our customers this completely local product,” Grant said.

The Bluegrass State boast more than 38,000 producers and more than 1 million head of beef cattle.

For more information about Kentucky Cattlemen’s Ground Beef, go to kentuckycattlemensbeef.com.

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