Kentucky Farm Bureau Agriculture Commissioner Candidate Forum
from my article in The Farmer’s Pride
With the general election less than a month away, Kentucky’s candidates for Agriculture Commissioner squared off before the Kentucky Farm Bureau Board of Directors to outline their plans for the future of the Department of Agriculture.
Democrat Robert Farmer of Louisville and Republican James Comer of Tompkinsville presented their credentials to the board and fielded questions designed to measure their fitness for the state’s top agriculture job.
Farmer opened with an overview of his career as an entrepreneur and businessman, serving as a marketing director for a Louisville bank and later opening his own advertising agency. He readily admits he has no agricultural background and doesn’t think that’s necessary for the job, needing only the management skills he has developed throughout his career.
Comer, on the other hand, grew up on a farm, served as the state’s FFA president, obtained an agriculture degree from Western Kentucky University and now operates his own farm while assisting with the operations of his family farm.
Farmer acknowledged Comer’s credentials while at the same time discounting them, saying that Kentucky’s farmers already know how to farm, they just need assistance marketing their products. Farmer also attempted to cast Comer as a career politician, having served 11 years in the Kentucky General Assembly. Farmer supposed that the youthful Comer would continue to seek public office, while the office of Agriculture Commissioner is the only political post he (Farmer) ever intends to pursue.
Following their introductions, KFB Directors quizzed the candidates on seven topics. Here are a portion of their comments;
- Department of Agriculture Budget
Comer: “We face a crisis in Kentucky with the budget cuts. If we don’t have a serious, credible ag commissioner with a good relationship with the General Assembly, that budget will continued to be whittled down. We have great programs in the Department, like the hay testing program and the tractor safety program – so many programs that could easily be cut overnight.”
Farmer: The very first thing I’m going to do is to sell that luxury SUV of Ritchie Farmer’s and I’m going to keep driving my 2002 Mercury with 100,000 miles on it. That’s the car I’m going to use. The second thing I’m going to do is ask [the state auditor] to come in and audit the entire Department, because I know it’s a mess. And I’m going to start all over and put good people in there that care more about people than position and their own personal income. I’m going to run it like a business.”
- Animal Disease Control
Farmer: “I had the privilege of being in Hopkinsville and getting to tour the Breathitt [Diagnostic] Lab. They do fabulous work down there, but it is so antiquated. I know the Governor is committed to a brand new facility and I would be committed to it also. I do think the state veterinarian’s office is run well and I would support that any way I can. We also need a disaster plan. If you do have an outbreak, how do you control it, not only physically but in a public relations manner to assure there’s no panic.”
Comer: “Disease prevention will be a number one priority. I’ve been a livestock farmer all my life and I understand what disease can do, not just to an individual farmer but to the industry and a whole. The Department is in charge of the state veterinarian’s office. It’s important that we take this office seriously and elect a commissioner that understands disease prevention.”
- Grain Inspection and Grain Insurance Fund
Comer: “I think this is very important. I worked with Farm Bureau over the last few sessions and voted to raise the fund from $3 million to $10 million. It’s important that we have a safety net for our grain farmers. We saw what happened with Eastern Livestock and we don’t want that to ever happen in the grain industry. I will do everything in my ability to see that we are inspecting and regulating the grain industry the way we’re supposed to by statute.”
Farmer: Certainly we want to protect that program. We might want to look at increasing it because of increasing prices. More importantly, I think it’s a model that could be set up for other commodities.”
- Kentucky Proud
Farmer: “Kentucky Proud is an excellent program that I believe is in its infancy. We’re doing Kentucky Proud on a local basis when we’re in a world-wide economy. I think we can expand it across our borders, across the nation and across the world.”
Comer: “The Kentucky Proud program has been a real success story for current Commissioner Ritchie Farmer. I commend Commissioner Farmer and think he’s done an outstanding job with that program. It’s something that I believe can continue to grow and expand. It’s something that we need to continue to focus on. We may have a few Kentucky Proud products that may not have a whole lot to do withKentucky. I want to re-certify every product. We need to make sure that every company that enjoys the privileges of being Kentucky Proud is 100%Kentucky.”
- Tobacco Issues
Comer: “I will work to make sure that policy is put into place to assure that we are regulating moisture testing devices for tobacco. I will travel with the commodity groups and with Farm Bureau to go wherever I need to go to open up new markets forKentuckyfarm products.”
Farmer: “After I clean house in January, we’re going to get experts in different commodity areas like tobacco. A big problem in the tobacco industry is labor. We need affordable, dependable and legal labor to help in that industry,”
- Rural and Market Development
Farmer: “Our rural communities are hurting. Bottom line, I’ve got two goals here; improve the quality of life in Rural Kentucky and, most importantly, improve net farm income.”
Comer: “Our best and brightest young people are leaving our rural communities every day. I want to focus our whole rural economic development efforts around agriculture and food processors. It will create jobs in rural communities, create markets for farmers and increase ag literacy forKentucky, which is something we have to do. We have too many people that don’t understand agriculture. That’s why we’re threatened by excessive regulation and animal rights activists. We spend too much time on defense. We need to be on the offensive and tell about the good things we’re doing.”
- Kentucky Agricultural Development Board/Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corporation
Comer: “The Ag Finance Board is something I think we can use to help create jobs in rural communities. We need to continue to invest 50% [of tobacco settlement funds] into agriculture. It’s something that has been a real success story and has really improved the infrastructure of agriculture in all 120 counties.”
Farmer: “The question we should ask is how [are these funds] going to increase your quality of life and your net farm income. These applications, when they’re brought in, should answer that question.”
Kentucky Farm Bureau president and forum moderator Mark Haney kept the session moving briskly and finished shortly before the allotted two hour time limit.
The history of KFB forums date back to the 1940’s, affording Farm Bureau participants access to candidates in all major state and local races.
Haney indicated that the Kentucky Farm Bureau would not endorse a candidate.