Category Archives: Uncategorized

Weather threatens but cooperates for Franklin County field day

By Ray Bowman

(A version if this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, July 20 issue)

Heavy clouds hung over the Steve Thornton family farm on Mt. Zion Road on the morning of the 59th Annual Franklin County Farm-City Field Day. Thunderstorms had rolled through the area earlier that morning and the threat of more showers persisted, yet the weather conditions seemed to have little impact on the attendance and enthusiasm for the event.

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Volunteers hustled to restock the wagons that would transport visitors with fresh, dry straw bales as tractors lined up to pull the wagons to the starting point of the tour.

 

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As the tractors started rolling, urban and rural attendees alike were ferried to several instructional stops that addressed gardening and vegetable diseases, hay storage, forage management and invasive plant species identification and control.

 

 

 

 

The tour wound its way across the farm to a small tent city set up to serve lunch, including rib-eye sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs. Kentucky Dawgs, the brainchild of Henry County farmer and entrepreneur David Neville were also available for sampling. This unique Kentucky Proud product is a beef sausage flavored and textured with oils and hearts (shelled seeds) from hemp, the Commonwealth’s newest

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experimental crop. The Franklin County Cattlemen’s Association grilled the steaks and additional entrees and side items were provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4075 and other donations.

 

 

Following the meal, local dignitaries thanked the crowd for their perseverance in light of the questionable weather. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles welcomed everyone saying that much of his youth was spent with family on farms in Franklin County. He also focused on the importance of bringing city-dwelling friends and family out to the farm, whether it be this type of event or other opportunities.

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“It’s a chance to inform people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to see, first hand, where their food comes from,” Quarles noted.

Farm-City Field Day is presented by UK Cooperative Extension, the Frankfort/Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, the Franklin County Conservation District and Franklin County Farm Bureau. It is made possible by the help of 125 volunteers and more than 30 groups and business that donate money or services.

For the most part, the event enjoyed a respite from the rain, but as visitors were transported back to their vehicles, the clouds began to regroup for another round of afternoon showers.

Protecting Kentucky’s Pollinators

by Ray Bowman

(A version if this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, July 6 issue)

 Mention the term pollinator and most people’s thoughts go to honey bees. Interestingly, the honey bee as we think of it today is not even native to the Americas.

According to Wikipedia (and who doesn’t believe Wikipedia?) honey bees appear to have their center of origin in South and Southeast Asia. They may have bummed a ride with the early colonists around 1622, when they arrived by way of Europe. The Native Americans dubbed it “the white man’s fly.”

But as ubiquitous as the honey bees now are, Kentucky’s state apiarist Tammy Horn says the Commonwealth hosts plenty of other (mostly) native pollinators.

“Pollinators is a very broad umbrella, that includes bats, hummingbirds, and butterflies – especially Monarch butterflies,” Horn observed. She noted that the Monarchs are a matter of concern, as are the honey bees, due to much-publicized fluctuations in their populations.

All this underscored the importance of Kentucky Pollinator Week, which coincided with National Pollinator Week, June 19-25.

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The Kentucky Department of Agriculture hosted state beekeepers, garden clubs and other pollinator friends at an event held in a green space adjacent to the Department offices, where various hives and pollinator attractive plants were on display. Ag chief of staff Keith Rogers read a proclamation from Governor Matt Bevin and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles emphasized the need for continued public education about the importance of agriculture and the impact of pollinators on that industry.

“We’ve got to do a better job of telling people the basics because when we have a sophisticated issue such a Colony Collapse Syndrome or other issues affecting the bee community, you’ve got to have a basic level of understanding before there can be intelligent discussion,” Quarles noted.

 

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Tammy Horn with Commissioner Ryan Quarles

 

Also at the event, Commissioner Quarles was presented with the Kentucky Pollinator Protection Plan, which Horn points to as a four-part set of guidelines to address some of the challenges being faced by Kentucky’s pollinator population.

“We’re defining best management practices, we’re increasing pollinator habitat, and we’re increasing education,” Horn explained. “Our last goal has been to create an electronic communication tool so that if something is being sprayed that requires communication with KDA, the sprayer can log on-line and text beekeepers and other managers of sensitive land areas.”

Horn says the final communication component is not active yet, but the project has been approved and is forthcoming.

The pollinator protection plan is on the Department of Agriculture’s web site at http://www.kyagr.com/statevet/documents/OSV_Bee_KY-Pollinator-Pro-Plan.pdf and Horn says parts of it are currently being implemented.

Kentucky Farm Bureau, along with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and several other stakeholders have been involved in creating the state’s Pollinator Protection Plan.

Always improving

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

Ed Note: This is the first in a series of articles that will be covering those selling beef in Kentucky. We will focus on producers across the state who are all making an impact in their own way. Stories will include individuals selling freezer beef,those selling further processed beef and those selling beef products direct into the retail and food service areas, to name a few. It also includes stories like this one on producers who are making decisions on the farm that affect the end product. All of these people are making an impact on our industry and we want to focus on their success and struggles.

Enjoy

By Ray Bowman

 Some Kentucky beef producers are shipping their steers to Iowa. What’s coming back is verified, valuable statistical information that could help them improve the makeup of their herd and have a very positive impact on cattle production in the Commonwealth.

The Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity program has been in place for over 30 years, started by Pottawattamie, Cass and Shelby County Cattleman’s Associations in 1982.

The goal of the program is to provide information to beef producers they can use in managing and marketing their product.  It provides cow-calf producers information on feedlot performance, average daily gain and carcass data on one or more steers/heifers entered.

The 10-member board that oversees the Futurity is made up of representatives from various segments of the beef industry. Their aim is to identify problems facing cow-calf producers and evaluate alternatives that can be demonstrated and shared with fellow consignors.

Producers sending their stock to the program retain ownership of the animals and receive compensation for the animals. When the cattle are harvested, the owners get the sale price of the carcass, minus feed and maintenance costs.

 

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Doug Shepherd, KCA president Chuck Crutcher and Hardin County Extension agent Matt Adams look over some numbers from the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity

 

“We started back in 2005 when we shipped the first two loads out there,” recalls Doug Shepherd, Hardin County extension agent, who, along with current Kentucky Cattleman’s Association president Chuck Crutcher of Rineyville, was instrumental in starting the project. Shepherd says it was a leap of faith to ship two semi-loads of calves to Iowa, even though little was actually known about the Futurity.

“Chuck and I hopped on a plane and landed out there four hours after the cattle arrived,” Shepherd continues. “We were totally impressed with what we saw and we came back and told the consignors they needed to go out and see this for themselves.”

Annual field trips continue to be a feature of Kentucky’s involvement with the program.

Since that initial venture, Shepherd says there has been a consistent flow of cattle from a number of Kentucky counties out to the feed lots designated by the Tri-County board. Kentucky is one of some sixteen states and one Canadian province that have sent stock to the futurity.

Cattle entered into the program must meet the Commonwealth’s CPH-45 requirements.

Currently, the cattle are loaded out at a number of sites, primarily stockyards. Shepherd says he hopes a dedicated livestock management facility will be built near Elizabethtown in the coming year.

After the steers have spent their time in the feed yard and are harvested, the information starts to flow back to the Kentucky consignors. “It’s a whole lot of data,” Shepherd observes.

When the numbers are in, the producers come to the Hardin County Extension offices to hear economists, meat scientists and animal nutritionists help them make sense – and practical application – of it all in order to improve the quality of their herds and the strength of their bottom line.

“They sit down with these guys and go over the numbers, column by column, how their cattle performed, what they need to consider changing in their operation,” Shepherd explains. “When we started this thing, we were averaging 35 to 37 percent choice grades, way below the national average. We’re up to a point where we have some loads hitting 90 percent choice.”

“What the consumer is demanding now, they want to know how cattle are treated, how cattle are fed, they’re very conscious of that,” Chuck Crutcher noted. “If we can put a better product on the table, that’s what we all should be doing.”

Breathitt Vet Center gets a new home

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

By Ray Bowman

 Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt served as Kentucky’s Governor from 1963 to 1967 during an era marked by profound changes in the nation’s civil rights laws and policies and a major focus on conservation and natural resources. An $875,000 bond issue for a state-of-the-art veterinary medicine facility probably didn’t draw much of the spotlight during those heady times.

The original 19,000 square-foot center was built in Christian County, KY, near Breathitt’s hometown of Hopkinsville in November of 1967. It would later be expanded to 44,000 square-feet and would become the first laboratory in the country to be fully accredited by the American Association of Laboratory Diagnosticians.

Initially, the Breathitt Veterinary Center and its sister facility, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington were operated by the state Department of Agriculture. In 1978, the Lexington Lab was transferred to the oversight of the University of Kentucky and Murray State University assumed responsibility for the BVC, charting a future course for the two facilities that would bring education and research into their missions.

The BVC was enlarged and renovated in 1982 and officially named the Breathitt Veterinary Center, but the mission of the center continued to outgrow the original facility. Following a feasibility study funded by the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy with Tobacco Settlement money, the Kentucky General Assembly approved $32 million for construction of a new lab.

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On May 11, 2017, Governor Matt Bevin joined Murray State University president Robert O. Davies and a host of other dignitaries for the building’s official ribbon cutting ceremony.

“I’m grateful for the work that went into this project, and those of you who, from the beginning, had this vision and this passion and didn’t give up,” Governor Bevin said. “It takes time to do things right, and this is done right.”

The Governor also thanked the architect who designed the structure. “I cut ribbons on a lot of buildings, government buildings, and they’re kind of sad looking sometimes,” Bevin lamented. “This is a stunning, stunning facility.”

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Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles took the opportunity to underscore the importance of the facility to Kentucky’s agricultural economy. “Over half of all farm receipts in Kentucky, about $3.3 billion of the $6 billion total, come from animal agriculture,” Quarles told those in attendance. “Having a diagnostics lab that is internationally known matters, and having it right here in Kentucky is something that we are very, very proud of.”

The May 11 event marked the public unveiling of the BVC, however, Quarles pointed out that the facility had already had its mettle tested by a real-world emergency and had passed with flying colors.

The laboratory was conducting a routine pre-slaughter test of “spent hens,” birds no longer being used for production from a nearby layer facility. The tests revealed the presence of low-pathogenic Avian Influenza prompting quarantines and temporary suspension of live bird sales at sale and show events.

Thanks to quick action made possible by early detection, the poultry industry only experienced a brief disruption. “Fortunately, what used to be a bad scenario ended up pretty minor, and that’s something we can all be thankful for,” Quarles noted. “What a way to break in a new building!”

“Almost daily, we update the science used to diagnose disease and protect the public,” commented Dr. Debbie Reed, director of the Breathitt Veterinary Center. “The Commonwealth of Kentucky has placed a great deal of trust in us by investing in this facility, and we need to live up to that trust by being the best public servants possible.”

Mercer breakfast kicks off June Dairy Month

(First Appeared in the June 1 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

 Larry Yeager says the Mercer County dairymen have been using the last Saturday in May to kick off the observance of June Dairy Month for about 11 years now. The first celebrations were held in the community of Salvisa, but more recently they have moved a little closer to Harrodsburg.

Things started early, around 6:30 AM, with Cloud’s Country Kitchen serving up mountains of scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage with biscuits and gravy, coffee, and – of course – gallons of milk.

“We usually see about 400 folks come through here in the course of the morning,” Yeager estimates.

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Caitie Collier and Ellie Jenkins from the Mercer County FFA Dairy Club give Kentucky Kate a workout

Activities included appearances by local dignitaries, music and a milking contest featuring Kentucky Kate, a life-size, fiberglass, milkable cow provided by the Kentucky Dairy Development Council (KDDC).

The $5.00 admission fee entitled visitors to breakfast and a chance at a door prize. The proceeds from the ticket sales go to benefit the Mercer County Fair Dairy Show.

The breakfast may have been the unofficial opener for June Dairy Month, but Governor Matt Bevin put his signature to the official proclamation designating the month on May 30th.

“There’s a lot of folks involved in the dairy industry, from producers and processors to marketers, and we like to take this month to show appreciation to all those people and promote the dairy products that are produced, not only here in Kentucky but everywhere,” according to Maury Cox, executive director of the KDDC.

Cox says Kentucky has a lot to be proud about when it comes to the dairy industry in the Bluegrass State. “In the March edition of the national magazine Hoard’s Dairyman, Kentucky ranked first in the nation for increased production per cow.”

“Kentucky also ranks first in milk quality out of eleven southeastern states,” Cox continued “which indicates there is also a tremendous focus on quality as well as production per cow.”

Kentucky’s commitment to dairy excellence is also reflected in the education and research being done here in the Commonwealth. From May 30-June 1, the University of Kentucky is partnering with the University of Minnesota to bring the Precision Dairy Farming Conference and Expo to Lexington.

The conference program will take a very practical approach, including dairy producer showcase sessions, many industry updates, and talks about how research impacts dairy management. The trade show will be an opportunity to see first-hand what companies have to offer in the growing field of precision technologies and equipment.

Several counties will recognize the importance of the dairy industry to Kentucky during the month with appreciation dinners and other observances. For baseball fans, June 15th will be Kentucky Proud Legen-Dairy Night with the Lexington Legends at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington and June 22nd will be Dairy Night with the Bowling Green Hot Rods at Bowling Green Ballpark.

Governor cuts ribbon on new Breathitt Vet Center

(First Appeared in the May 18 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)

By Ray Bowman

 Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin says he grew up a 4-H kid.

“I’ve probably raised more hogs and chickens than any Governor in America,” Bevin said. “I’m quite confident in that fact.”

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The Governor’s comments came in remarks he delivered at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new 77,000 square foot Breathitt Veterinary Center (BVC) near Hopkinsville, replacing its 44,000 square foot predecessor which opened in 1968. The new facility, under the oversight of Murray State University, boasts 53,000 square feet of diagnostic space and the only Biosafety Level III suite in Kentucky. The center is accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians and is part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

Bevin told the overflow crowd attending the ceremony that his life-long association with agriculture makes it easy for him to appreciate the importance of the new animal health complex.

“When I was 17-years-old, I had an opportunity to go to Beltsville, Maryland,” the Governor reflected, referring to the USDA research facility there which he said was not dissimilar in nature to the new Breathitt Center. “It’s a profound memory for me, in appreciation of the power of how agriculture touches each and every one of our lives.”

 

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Governor Matt Bevin, Murray State University Hutson School of Agriculture dean Tony Brannon and Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy executive director Warren Beeler

 

Bevin thanked everyone who had a part in the project for their vision, passion and perseverance and their dedication to “getting things right.”

Even though the facility is just now coming into the public eye, it has been functional for a short time and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles pointed out in his remarks to the audience that the BVC had to hit the ground running with the recent outbreak of Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza on a Christian County farm, the first appearance of the disease in the Commonwealth since 2009.

Quarles said he received a call from state veterinarian Robert Stout advising him that the virus had been discovered. “The second call I received was from this center saying, ‘we’ve got it under control.’ Fortunately, what used to be a bad scenario ended up being something minor, and that’s something we can all be thankful for. What a way to break in a new building.”

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Governor Matt Bevin and BVC director Dr. Debbie Reed

In 2008, $300,000 was designated for a feasibility study from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board (ADB) to get the ball rolling for the Breathitt Veterinary Center. The money came from tobacco settlement funds and the current executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy, which oversees the ADB, told the crowd that tobacco settlement dollars are still having a major impact on Kentucky agriculture.

“In 1998, when this money showed up, we had 46,000 tobacco farmers in Kentucky, and now we have 4,600,” Warren Beeler observed. “In 1998, cash receipts at farm gate were $3.7 billion, and tobacco was a fourth of that. Today, cash receipts are $6 billion and tobacco is less than 7%. It’s no coincidence. It’s Kentucky tobacco money helping farmer help themselves.”

David Beck, executive vice president of Kentucky Farm Bureau served as master of ceremonies for the event, and following comments from Dr. Robert O. Davies, president of Murray State University, Dr. Tony Brannon, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture at MSU, and Dr. Debbie Reed, director of the Breathitt Veterinary Center, Governor Bevin closed the ceremony by presenting a proclamation paying tribute to the new center.

The Governor and president Davies then snipped the ribbon on the BVC and participants got their first up-close look at the new facility.

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.

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