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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.

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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.

Cattle producer education series debuts at the YARDS

(A version of this article appears in the March 1, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

The Beef Education Center at Lexington’s Bluegrass Regional Marketplace is a first-of-its-kind facility that is attempting to bring agriculture education opportunities to a wide range of audiences without neglecting its principle focus, continuing education for producers who grow the cattle that daily pass through Bluegrass Stockyards.

To that end, the Y.A.R.D.S (Youth Advocacy Research Demonstration Sustainability) recently inaugurated a monthly “Lunch and Learn” series, open to anyone interested, but primarily geared to stockyard visitors who want to take a break, have some food and get some insight into various areas of the cattle industry.

Niki Ellis, Kentucky Beef Council Director of Education coordinates programming at the facility and says the composition of the audience for the first session came as a bit of a surprise to her, with most of them coming specifically to attend the event.

“We thought it would just be people wandering down from the sale ring, but everyone here today came specifically because they heard about the event,” Ellis said. “It’s nice to know that there is interest and people are making plans to attend.”

Plans are for the monthly sessions to follow seasonal topics that provide information and opportunities for interaction with ag professionals on a timely basis.

“We’re planning to theme them out throughout the months to go along with what’s going on at the farm, whether it’s bull buying season, hay production or whatever,” according to Ellis.DSC_8710

The first Lunch and Learn offering featured Dr. Les Anderson, Beef Cattle Extension and Reproductive Physiology professor from the University of Kentucky along with UK’s Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, Associate Extension Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist. The duo fielded questions and made some observations on what producers might be doing to prepare for spring.

Cattlemen aren’t the only ones benefitting from the YARDS. Ellis says the classroom hosts a variety of visitors, ranging from elementary school classes to consumer groups and senior citizens tours.

“It’s really neat to see folks, especially from non-agricultural backgrounds come out and interact with the farmers and the people who have businesses here,” Ellis observes. “It’s great to see people realize how we all impact our community.”

Ellis says diversity is the key to the facility’s success. Plans are currently underway to organize agricultural financial planning seminars and Beef Quality Assurance training.

May is Beef Month in Kentucky, so plans are in the works for a number of activities including a grilling season kick-off series for general audiences and beef marketing seminars for the industry to discuss new and emerging export markets.

The next Lunch and Learn session will be March 20 and if you can’t make it to Lexington, you can watch on Facebook live.

“We’ve been interested in doing something with Facebook live but there just hadn’t been that right event so far,” Ellis explains. “We thought this would be a great one to try it out. It’s one of those great tools to take learning out of the classroom and share it anywhere.”

You can find the video from the February session and watch for future events on The Yards Facebook page.

Farmer connects to consumers with parody videos

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, February 14 issue)

By Ray Bowman

In 2012, Greg Peterson was finishing up a degree in Agriculture Communications at Kansas State University. While entertaining some friends with agriculture-related parody lyrics to popular songs, Peterson decided to employ his knack for video editing and appreciation of pop culture to make a music video with his then high school-aged brothers. The rest, as they say, is viral internet history.

The Peterson Farm Brothers have, to date, racked up over 10 million views on their initial offering “I’m Farming and I Grow It” and have produced eight other music videos as well as a number of informational videos about life on their fifth-generation family farm, located near Assaria, KS.

Greg PetersonThe 27-year-old internet sensation recently spoke in Louisville at the American Forage and Grassland Council annual meeting, encouraging his fellow farmers to engage a waiting audience and tell their story.

“Growing up in rural Kansas, you would think that all our friends would have known what it means to be a farm kid,” Peterson reflected. “Most of our friends in public school didn’t know much about farming and would almost look down on us for being farm kids.”

Rather than be embarrassed about who they were and where they came from, Peterson says he and his brothers, and one sister began advocating for agriculture in elementary school, trying to convince their classmates that farming was “cool.”

The young Petersons’ efforts continued through high school and on into college.

While in class at Kansas State one day, Peterson’s instructor showed a professionally-produced ag advocacy video.

“I remember thinking the video was really well done and communicated a great message, but I don’t know if my friends from Kansas City would sit down and watch it,” said Peterson. “I thought, surely there’s a much more entertaining way to get this message across.”

Peterson was also working on a minor in Music Performance, which he admits is a rather odd pairing but one that would soon reap substantial dividends. The talented young agri-artist enjoys singing and playing the piano, guitar, and trumpet.

“Growing up as a musician as well as a farmer, I always knew the power that music had to get people to pay attention to something they might otherwise ignore,” Peterson notes. “I thought, why not use music to advocate for agriculture.”

The next step was to find a tune that might grab the attention of an urban audience, similar to his former classmates, that might have some incorrect information about agriculture and use it to counter those misperceptions.

“One evening I was sitting in a restaurant with some of my friends and the song ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’ was playing,” Peterson recalls. “Ironically, I didn’t like that song, so I started changing the lyrics to make my friends laugh, and that’s when the light came on that I could make a parody music video about farming.”

Many of the videos the Peterson Farm Brothers produce are based on popular contemporary tunes that an urban audience might quickly recognize.

When Greg pitched the concept to brothers Nathan and Kendall, they weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea.

“They looked at me like I was crazy,” he mused. “They didn’t want to create something and put it online that might get made fun of.”

“When we made this video, we were aiming it at our friends,” he continues. “We never thought it would go viral and attract millions of views.”

The brothers shot the video while they were working and produced it when they could find some downtime from their farming responsibilities. The production of the three-and-a-half-minute video took about a month.

“We talked about how many views we thought this video would get, and the highest number we threw out there was maybe 50-thousand views in a couple of years if it was really successful,” Peterson said.

Within four days of posting the YouTube video, it had been viewed over half a million times and the brothers were receiving national media attention. By the end on that week, the video had been watched more than five million times.

The success of “I’m Farming and I Grow It” spawned more efforts by the brothers, also featuring younger sister Laura.

“If you want to advocate for agriculture, the first step is to take the initiative,” Peterson says. “Maybe it’s making a video or making a Facebook post or maybe just talking to someone, you have to take the initiative. It’s not going to happen by itself.”

You can see the Peterson Farm Brothers’ videos on their YouTube channel and follow their advocacy efforts on Facebook.

Governor declares February Farms to Foodbanks month

By Ray Bowman

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, February 1 issue)

In 1983, while serving as chairman of the Senate sub-committee on nutrition, Kansas Senator Robert Dole recognized the continuing problem of hunger in America, saying, “While our agricultural surpluses provide ample evidence of this nation as a major world food producer, it’s intolerable to most Americans that some people are going hungry in this land.”

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles feel the same way.DSC_8593

Bevin and Quarles recently headlined a bipartisan lineup at the 2018 Rally to Solve Hunger in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. Joining them were First Lady Glenna Bevin, Attorney General Andy Beshear, Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes, Senate ag committee chair Paul Hornback, House ag committee chair Richard Heath and Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.

A sizable crowd, many from food banks and feeding programs across the Commonwealth, braved snow and single-digit temperatures to travel to the state capitol and hear the Governor read a proclamation declaring February “Farms to Food Banks Month.”

“The reality is that the uncertainty of where the next meal comes from is real for many people,” Bevin said. “You hear heartbreaking stories about people in the foster care system who have a child who comes into their home and starts hoarding food. The genesis of that is a child who is not sure that there will be food there when they wake up.”

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Kentucky First Lady Glenna Bevin and Gov. Matt Bevin

 

Map the Meal Gap 2017, an annual study by Feeding America, showed that one out of every six Kentuckians lacked consistent access to adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources in 2015. One in every five children in the Commonwealth is food insecure, according to the report.

“That is absolutely tragic and heartbreaking,” Bevin observed.

“I tip my hat to you and to so many who for so long now have worked to use the resources that we have in Kentucky,” the Governor continued. “We’re good at growing food, we’re good at processing food, we have people that are good at getting food to market, and I’m so grateful to those 600 food banks in 66 of our counties who make providing that food possible.”

In the spring of 2016, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles launched the Kentucky Hunger Initiative to address the chronic problem of food insecurity in Kentucky.

DSC_8628“Food is one of the few things that bring people together,” Commissioner Quarles commented. “Today, food has brought people from both ends of the political spectrum together to help solve a common problem in Kentucky.”

Quarles pointed to recent legislative changes that allow grocery stores to donate surplus food and donations from corporate entities provided freezers for food banks who lacked the ability to store cold meats and frozen produce.

“We saw a problem and we fixed it,” Quarles said.

In December, the Department of Agriculture also worked with the Kentucky Finance Cabinet to secure 14 tractor trailer-loads of FEMA surplus food at a 96 percent discount, providing over 300-thousand meals for needy Kentuckians right before Christmas. Donations have been secured to soon bring five more truckloads of food.

“Let’s continue the momentum, let’s keep the politics out of hunger and let’s continue to identify problems and fix them,” Quarles said in closing.

The Rally to Solve Hunger in Kentucky is an annual event that has now taken place for the last five years. It is sponsored by the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.

Senate Ag committee clears bills, hears from Commissioner

By Ray Bowman

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, February 1 issue)

The agriculture committee of the state Senate was slated to hear from agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles during its first meeting of the 2018 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, but first, the committee needed to act on two measures.

One of those, House Bill 153, had already sailed through the House of Representatives with an 84-1 vote and appeared to be on a fast track in the Senate committee. The fast track, however, had a bump in it.

The bill, referred to as a “clean-up” bill, would amend KRS 189.222, which allows for a ten percent weight variance for vehicles transporting feed for livestock or poultry. House Bill 174, passed in the 2017 session, was intended to effect needed changes to the statute, however, it was found to be flawed.DSC_8634

One of the legislation’s sponsors, Sen. Richard Heath was joined by Warren Beeler, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy (GOAP) and Jamie Guffey, executive director of the Kentucky Poultry Federation as he addressed the committee on the bill’s behalf.

Before the introduction of the measure was complete, a motion was made and seconded to pass the bill out of committee and send it to the Senate floor.

However, Sen. David Givens had some questions about why the new language was necessary and what impacts it might have with non-agricultural haulers.

Sen. Heath responded that the changes would have positive results, saying it would mean “fewer trips to the farm, reduce wear and tear on our roads and more efficient operation for the poultry industry.”

HB 153 was passed out of committee on a 10-1 vote.

The committee also unanimously passed House Bill 146, a measure that would allow reorganization of certain segments of the Department of Agriculture. The legislation unanimously passed the house and with its favorable vote in committee heads to the Senate for consideration.DSC_8642

Commissioner Quarles then addressed the committee, thanking them for their consideration and action on the bills affecting his department.

The commissioner noted that 2017 was a robust crop year for the Commonwealth which saw many yield records broken and farm income was up, topping out at about $5.7 billion.

Regarding the 2018 state budget, Quarles told legislators that his department would have some proposals for ag-related areas, such as the diagnostic labs and regulatory services.

“We are committed to doing our part and reducing our budget,” he assured the senators. “Being farm kids, we know how to get the duct tape out,” Quarles quipped, spotlighting one particular project that restored a neglected piece of equipment rather than purchasing a new one. That effort alone resulted in a savings of an estimated $52,000.

Quarles said international trade will be a major focus of his department in the coming year.

“Half of our soybeans and about a quarter of our corn ends up overseas,” he said. “Eighty percent of the tobacco, still a $350 million-dollar business in our state, goes overseas.”

The commissioner pledged that his department is looking to aggressively pursue trade programs that work for Kentucky agriculture.

Yaks in the Bluegrass

(First appeared in Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association publication Cow Country News December issue)

By Ray Bowman

 The temperature hovered around 40 degrees and a light rain fell as visitors made their circuit around the pens and listened to shivering presenters at the 2nd Annual Tibetan Yak Exhibition in Morehead. The yaks, however, were loving it.

Greg Dike, one of the coordinators for the event held in an open-sided pavilion at the Morehead State University Derrickson Agricultural Center, was also surveying the pens and shared a little background on what started his yak attraction.DSC_8128

“I was traveling in North India a number of years ago and met refugees from Tibet who were extolling the virtues of yaks and telling me that I should get into them,” Dike reflected.

Upon returning to his home in Menifee County, Dike started surfing the internet, learning what he could about the animal and its presence in the United States.

“I found a farm in Ohio that had a yak heifer for sale. I bought her, and it was sort of addictive after that,” he continued.

DSC_8147Dike notes that finding full-blooded breeding stock in the eastern U.S. is not that easy, however high-quality breeding stock is available from western producers. He says there are perhaps five thousand or so yaks in this country and the only way to increase the numbers is through breeding, as importation is currently not available. Following detection of a case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003, the United States immediately closed its borders to cattle coming from Canada. While the ban was lifted for commercial cattle later that year, yaks are still restricted, according to Dike. He feels the ban will eventually be lifted.

Kentucky being beef country, Dike feels that crossing yak bulls with beef breed females will produce a higher value meat that appeals to health-conscious consumers. “Ground yak meat wholesales for around $10 per pound or more – and there’s a shortage – so if you cross yak with Angus, or whatever, it will add to the quality of the meat and there would be a market there,” Dike surmises. “The trick there is that the yak needs to think it’s one of the other breed, so you should raise the bull from a calf with your Angus or Charolais,” he continued. Artificial insemination is being experimented with and Dike hopes to work with area cattlemen to AI cows and see how producers like the cross.

In addition to the meat possibilities, yaks grow a downy undercoat that can be harvested for fiber applications. Dike likens the quality to alpaca fiber. The fiber is shed in the spring and can be collected by combing the animal out.

DSC_8123While Dike observes that even with their heavy coats, yaks fare well in Kentucky’s diverse weather. Northern Michigan breeder Jim Dixon says they really enjoy his 180 to 200-day winters. “Snow will be on by the 15th of November and we won’t see the ground until mid-April. These guys just revel in the snow.”

Dixon says heat and humidity can stress the animals to a degree, but he observes that they are very tough. “Provided they have shade and water, they’re hardy enough to make it through without any problems.”

Dike says the yak in Tibetan culture is similar to bison in native American lore, being prized not only for food and fiber production but also used as beasts of burden. Some are also trained to be ridden, he says. “In some countries, they have yak races and even play polo on them, which you can watch on YouTube. It’s pretty amusing.”

Incentive announced to bring more local produce to Summer Meal Programs

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, January 18 issue)

By Ray Bowman

 You might say Kentucky Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles plowed a little new ground when he addressed the 2018 Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference.

The Commissioner chose this venue to announce a new first-of-its-kind program to incentivize the inclusion of more locally-grown produce in summer meal programs for Kentucky students.

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Ryan Quarles speaks with the media following the K-VIP announcement

The Kentucky-grown Fruit and Vegetable Incentive Program (to be known as K-VIP) will make enrolled sponsors eligible for reimbursement of up to one-third of the total dollars spent on Kentucky produce.

K-VIP will be made possible during its first year by a $185-thousand grant from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board. The funds will be administered by the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.

“Every summer, hundreds of feeding sites serve children in communities across the Commonwealth,” Quarles noted. “Last year alone, 2.8 million meals were served to kids over the summer.”

Quarles says the United States Department of Agriculture reimburses the programs to the tune of $3.83 per meal. He says over $600-thousand was spent on vegetables alone, but there was no guarantee they were coming from growers in the Commonwealth. With this new program, that statistic will be easier to track, and Kentucky farmers will be reaping a benefit.

“We’re taking steps to provide an incentive for these summer feeding programs to look to Kentucky first, before looking out-of-state for fruits and vegetables,” Quarles said.

Summer meal site sponsors need to submit a K-VIP Enrollment Application online at www.kykidseat.org/kvip by April 15, 2018. The sites need to be approved by the Kentucky Department of Education. Enrolled sponsors will submit reimbursement claims to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture by September 15 and approved reimbursements will then be made by the end of October.

“K-VIP is an opportunity to leverage dollars that are already coming in to our state and help our local food supply system,” Quarles told the crowd, which was largely composed of farmers growing fruits and vegetable or others engaged in the produce industry. “No other state has done this. It’s innovative, it’s exciting and it’s the product of about six months work at the Department of Agriculture,” he added.

“We think this is a win, win, win. It’s a win for Kentucky farmers, it’s a win for our Kentucky feeding sites and it’s a win for a large population of food insecure children in Kentucky.”

KY equine trade with China promises economic potential

By Ray Bowman

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, Bill Thomason, president and CEO, Keeneland Thoroughbred Racing and Sales, and Chauncey Morris, executive director, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders recently met with media representatives to celebrate the signing of a trade accord with China that allows the export of live horses to that country from the United States for the first time in two years.DSC_8397.JPG

“We believe that this trade deal not only benefits Kentucky, but it also strengthens Kentucky agriculture’s presence internationally,” Quarles told reporters. “We believe there will be an immediate positive economic impact due to the resumption of trade with China.”

Quarles says that 2 out of every three horses that are currently being exported from the United States come from Kentucky. “It’s estimated that the Chinese are buying between $20 and $30 million worth of horses each year,” Quarles noted. “Their racing industry is truly in its infancy and it is growing.”

In the 19th century, thoroughbred horse racing came to China due to British settlements but Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, banned horse racing in 1949 as a shameful capitalist pursuit. Racing was gradually re-established in the 1990’s and by 2014 horse racing returned to the Chinese mainland in earnest.DSC_8382.JPG

“In the past three years there has been a huge demand for all horses in China,” Chauncey Morris observed. “During the signing ceremony, both the U.S. ambassador and the Chinese minister made comments about the two largest economies in the world and the importance of them building strong cultural and economic ties.”

The agreement was signed by U.S. and Chinese officials in November, ending a ban that began in 2015 when concerns arose about a potentially fatal equine viral disease.DSC_8378.JPG

Bill Thompson remarked that Kentucky has built strong ties with equine enthusiasts across the globe, resulting in a robust demand for horses from the Commonwealth. “Because of the success and because of the experience they have had in this country, they end up coming back to this region, making more significant investments in Central Kentucky,” Thompson said. “We welcome China and we welcome this great announcement, it being another one of those places where we are going to be able to continue in central Kentucky with the great tradition of sending our thoroughbreds around the world.”

“We believe that we can begin to capture a significant part of this market almost immediately,” Quarles explained. “Next year, in 2018, we hope to have Chinese buyers here in Kentucky and as their racing industry continues to grow, it will help Kentucky’s economy grow as well.”horsefarm.jpg

Thoroughbred sales represent perhaps the largest economic impact of the agreement with China, but Quarles says other breeds, such as saddlebreds and quarter horses, will benefit as well as those industries that support equine production and sales in the Commonwealth.

Quarles and University of Kentucky agriculture economist Will Snell agree that it’s far too early to start attaching dollar figures to this development, however Quarles says to consider that “just one planeload of horses that makes its way out of Bluegrass Airport headed for China will be a multi-million dollar deal.”

“Any opportunity with China, in terms of their growing population and growing income, is big. China is our number one agriculture trading partner,” Dr. Snell emphasized. “We know that if the world is looking for equines, they’re going to look here first. They’re going to come to Kentucky”

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