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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.

Cattlemen’s Boot Camp: back to the basics

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

By Ray Bowman

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Ray Bowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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