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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”


Responders test grain bin rescue gear

By Ray Bowman

Let’s say you have a job to do and there’s a choice of ten products you can use to complete the task. Each product differs in size, weight, complexity and many other features, including cost. You have to make a decision on what to buy and use. Oh, and there’s a catch; your choice just might be a matter of life and death.DSC_8421

Firefighters and rescue teams from around the Commonwealth gathered recently at Fresh Start Farms in Larue County to do some hands-on testing of grain bin rescue tubes and develop some opinions on which apparatus might work best for them in the circumstances where such gear might be needed.

“Lots of publications and organizations do product testing, not necessarily to determine which one is best, but to provide some pros and cons of each product so that consumers can make informed decisions,” explained Dr. Stacy Vincent, Agriculture Education Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky. “What we’re trying to do here is gather information that might aid in decisions about what equipment might best serve users under circumstances that might vary from location to location.”

First, the teams were timed on how long it took to get the pieces of each tube to the top of an actual grain bin, then down into the bin to be assembled and deployed.DSC_8415

Following the grain bin exercise, teams worked with a human volunteer buried up to the chest in an open grain truck to see how long it took to assemble and deploy each apparatus and retrieve the “victim.”

The volunteers were from LaRue County FFA. Each person who assisted was 18-years old or older and had been cautioned on what they would experience while being engulfed in grain. “We certainly couldn’t use anyone who was claustrophobic,” Vincent noted. “The volunteers knew this wasn’t a game and that they might experience discomfort,” Vincent said all the volunteers embraced the importance of the role they were playing and there were no problems associated with the exercise.

Many of the equipment manufacturers had representatives present for the tests, but they were forbidden from taking part or even offering suggestions on how to use the gear. After the tests, the representatives acknowledged that they learned quite a bit from the experience and would take suggestions back to their companies regarding challenges encountered with their product and what might be done to improve instructional materials or the product itself.

All of the data collected from the event will be analyzed and submitted for possible presentation at The International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health (ISASH) 2018 Annual Conference, June 24-27, 2018 in Halifax, Nova Scotia where, if the proposal is accepted, it will be peer-reviewed.

“We want to see what reviewers say about the study, make any necessary edits or changes and put that in a form that can be distributed,” Vincent says.

“The Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the University of Kentucky and the Dixie Firefighters Association put on an important event. We need to be working together like this,” Vincent said. “Aren’t we all doing this for the right reason, to do the best job possible at saving someone’s life?”

Harvard professor, biotech advocate Calestous Juma dies


Calestous-JumaAbout 4 years ago I had the tremendous honor of interviewing Dr. Calestous Juma for the Food and Farm radio program I was producing at the time. Juma, a faculty member at the Harvard Kennedy School, died December 15 while undergoing treatment in Boston, Massachusetts.

Here’s a link to the segment I did with Dr. Juma…




Farm Bureau Commodity Luncheon features double header

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, December 7 issue)

By Ray Bowmanquarles

The Commodity LunPruittcheon at the Kentucky Farm Bureau annual meeting usually provides an opportunity for farm leaders to hear an update from the Commissioner of Agriculture. As promised by the agenda, Ryan Quarles was on-hand to supply those remarks.

What the audience wasn’t expecting was to hear from the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.

KyFB president Mark Haney explained that Pruitt had been planning to visit the meeting, but his schedule is extremely busy and subject to unexpected change, so the appearance was a well-guarded secret until the administrator slipped through the side door of Louisville’s Galt House ballroom.

This was Pruitt’s second visit to his home state of Kentucky in less than two months. He and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell came to Hazard on October 9 to announce a rollback of the Obama-era clean power plan to the Eastern Kentucky coal industry. He then traveled to Bourbon County to talk with farm leaders about plans to address government over-reach in the previous administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) plan.

Pruitt told the Farm Bureau audience that his agency’s focus on environmental matters will not overlook employment and economic growth.

“I’m looking at those across the room that are our first conservationists,” Pruitt said. “You care about the land that you farm, the water that you drink and the air that you breathe. We need to look at you as a partner and not an adversary.” Pruitt said he feared that the agency has not held that belief in recent years.

Pruitt said a replacement of the WOTUS rule can be expected by mid-2018.

“That rule is going to focus on navigability.  It’s going to focus on what Congress intended with respect to that definition to provide that clarity across the country and across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

The administrator’s remarks came on the heels of a pledge by Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles to continue the progress being made by his department, even in the face of a constricting budget.

The success of agriculture in the Commonwealth is critical, according to Quarles, due to the dominant role it plays in our economy. He said that, whether on the local, state, or federal level, Kentucky “fights above its weight class.”

“A recent survey showed that 200-thousand jobs in Kentucky are directly or indirectly related to agriculture,” Quarles pointed out. “We have a $45-billion economic impact, and when you consider our state’s total Gross Domestic Product is $190-billion, it kind of reflects that no matter where you go in this state agriculture plays a big role in economic development.”

Quarles closed his remarks by thanking Kentucky Farm Bureau for its support of and partnership with his agency, and with what has recently become his mantra: “If you like to buy, buy Kentucky Proud and if you like to eat, thank a Kentucky farmer.”

Haney re-elected state Farm Bureau president

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, December 7 issue)

By Ray Bowman

 Pulaski County farmer Mark Haney has served as president of Kentucky Farm Bureau since 2008. On December 2, Haney was re-elected to continue to lead the organization, which boasts a membership of nearly half a million Kentucky families.DSC_8347

Eddie Melton of Webster County was also re-elected to the position of First Vice President and Fritz Giesecke of Hart County will continue to serve as Second Vice President.

Haney seized the opportunity to emphasize the theme of the 2017 annual meeting as he delivered his president’s address during the December 1st general session.

“’Lead Where You Stand’ is such an appropriate theme for our organization” Haney reflected. “We want folks to be able to lead in all areas of their communities; to be able to lead in any organization, whether it be a church group or PTA, whatever it is,” Haney encouraged. “You can be a leader. You can influence lives. You will be able to change where you and your children live and where your grandchildren are going to be. It will make a difference. Step out there and express your opinion. People will listen to leaders.”

Leaders and future leaders were celebrated throughout the annual meeting.DSC_8350

At the commodity luncheon, former Kentucky Farm Bureau president Sam Moore was recognized for his service on the Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund oversight board which he helped to create following the passage of Kentucky House Bill 611 in April of 2000. The legislation set up a process for spending the first phase of tobacco settlement monies.

In 2006 Moore had been chosen as Kentucky’s first Farmer of the Year. This year, Darren Luttrell of Ohio County was selected for the honor. Kentucky Farm Bureau annually recognizes an individual whose efforts not only strengthen the state’s agriculture industry but also demonstrates service and leadership both on and off the farm.

Ben and Katie Furnish of Harrison County were honored as Kentucky Farm Bureau’s 2017 “Outstanding Young Farm Family.” Each year KyFB awards this distinction to a couple, under the age of 35, who has exhibited the strongest farm management skills, most consistent financial growth and highest level of involvement in both Farm Bureau and the community.

Warren cattleman reflects on a long history with the NAILE

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, December 7 issue)

By Ray Bowman

The infamous green shavings are gone. The stock trailers and showmen have returned home with their ribbons and banners. The North American International Livestock Exposition is in the books for another year.

The NAILE first came to Louisville in 1974. Warren County Angus breeder Gil R. Cowles says he’s been there since the beginning.


Gil Cowles shares some instruction and encouragement with Katie Smith as she prepares to take a Pleasant Hill heifer into the ring

“Since the North American came to Louisville, I have been every year either as an exhibitor or a spectator,” says Cowles, the owner of Pleasant Hill Farms in Rockfield.

The International Livestock Exposition originated in Chicago, Illinois in 1900 and ran through 1975. After the Union Stockyards were closed in 1971, the show in Chicago ended at the close of the 1975 engagement. In 1974, the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville was inaugurated and for 1974 and 1975 there were two Expos; one in Chicago, and one in Louisville. In 1976, there was once again one International at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition grounds in Louisville.

“There were enough folks like Jack Ragsdale with the foresight to put this exposition here,” Cowles reflected.

Cowles says the Expo has inevitably seen much change over the last four decades, but the show is still thriving with increased participation for the 17-day run in 2017. “It seems like this year there has been a lot of activity across the entire livestock spectrum, especially on what I call youth weekend,” he reflected. “It seems like this year, there has been an even higher level of participation than I can remember in the most recent past.”Cowles

The NAILE also lives up to its international reputation according to Cowles. “I attended the Saddle and Sirloin induction of (American Angus Association’s) Tom Burke into the Gallery and in that room, there were over 300 guests from 42 states and three foreign countries.”

Indeed, official numbers from Kentucky Venues, parent organization of the Kentucky Exposition Center, bear out Cowles’ observations, reflecting an increase in both exhibitors and rodeo attendance. NAILE drew nearly 30,000 entries with competitors, exhibitors, and attendees from 49 states and six foreign countries. The event generated an economic impact of $8.3 million to the greater Louisville region.

The Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo, held in conjunction with NAILE, saw the highest attendance in five years with more than 19,000 fans enjoying the three performances in Freedom Hall.DSC_8224

“For us, we attend the National Western in Denver, we go to the American Royal in Kansas City, and we come here to Louisville,” Cowles says. “Without question, this is the Crown Jewel and everybody wants to come to Louisville.” Cowles lists outstanding facilities and attractive exhibit areas among the features that set the North American apart from its sister events.

Cowles says he expects his family’s involvement with the North American will continue for at least another generation. “ We have three children that probably like this even more than we do and, if it’s up to them, they’ll continue to do this year in and year out.”

Exports critical to renewed growth in Ag economy

by Ray Bowman

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, November 16 issue)

Agriculture here in the United States, and specifically in Kentucky, has had a tough few years in terms of income, due to a peak, and in some instances a decline, in consumption of grain and meat products.

DSC_8158That came as no surprise to Dr. Will Snell’s audience at the Kentucky Agribusiness Summit held recently in Louisville. The AgriBusiness Association of Kentucky hosts the annual event as an informational and networking opportunity for Kentucky’s agricultural leaders.

The University of Kentucky agricultural economist noted that, so far, 2017 has been a better year for farm income, but he emphasized that improving ag exports will assist in an economic rebound.

“We, as an industry over the past several decades have become more and more dependent upon international markets,” Snell said. “Right now, over a third of the value of agricultural production in the United States evolves from sales overseas.”

Nationally, according to Snell, about 60 percent of the tobacco harvested ends up on foreign markets and around 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s leaf goes out of the country.

Snell says the U.S. is exporting agricultural products to nearly 200 countries, worldwide. China, Canada, and Mexico make up about 45 percent of all ag exports.

Where are things headed in the future? “The world population is going to hit 9 billion by 2050, 30 percent more mouths to feed,” Snell projected. “Population gains, along with income gains will basically require doubling food production.” Even with current technological advances Snell says that presents a formidable challenge, but also offers many global trade opportunities.

Information from Brookings Institute and World Bank indicate that by 2030, 60 percent of the world population will be designated as middle class, Snell said. “This is a group that wants money available for things like healthcare and entertainment, but they also buy more food, fiber, and fuel,” he noted. “We in agriculture are in the food, fiber and fuel business, so it’s going to present a lot of opportunities as we move ahead towards this era of an increasing global middle class.”DSC_8169

Naturally, the success of international trade is based on treaties that outline the terms of doing business between countries. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been one of the most visible and perhaps most controversial of those treaties. Snell says that since NAFTA was enacted in 1984, exports to Canada and Mexico have increased by about 400 percent. Now, with the agreement’s future in doubt, the agriculture community is concerned about what impact its renegotiation might have.

“I don’t think you’ll find too many people in agriculture, either economists or farmers or farm organizations, that aren’t extra concerned right now with the potential of the U.S. withdrawing from NAFTA,” Snell said.

On a positive note, Jeff Pendleton, general manager of Hallway Feeds serves as a delegate to the American Feed Industry Association and has had an opportunity to be briefed on the NAFTA negotiations. He says that, while the Trump administration is pushing for resolution of the matter by year’s end, there is a mandate to do nothing to negatively impact agriculture.

In closing, Snell emphasized that Kentucky is in a good position to benefit from an improving world market and is currently the home of a number of international businesses and many more are coming to the Commonwealth to learn more about the diversity of agricultural products available here. Kentucky’s location and available infrastructure also make it an attractive place for international concerns to do business.

Lacefield named Kentucky FSA State Director

by Ray Bowman

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, November 16 issue)

Less than a week following U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announcement that Brian Lacefield will serve as Kentucky’s new Farm Service Agency State Director, the Christian County native made his first public appearance wearing the new title. He joined Kentucky Farm Bureau’s Joe Cain and Preston Cory of the Environmental Protection Agency for a panel discussion on federal issues at the Kentucky Agribusiness Summit.DSC_8198

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) explained in a news release accompanying the Lacefield announcement that State Directors help implement policies in planning, organizing, and administering FSA programs in their respective states. They are also responsible for running the day-to-day activities of the state FSA office. Secretary Perdue also announced directors for 15 other states.

“These state directors will help ensure that USDA is offering the best customer service to our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and agricultural producers across the country,” Secretary Perdue said in making the announcement. “FSA plays a critical role in helping the people of agriculture, and are able to connect with people in their home states.  They are the initial points of contact for millions of our USDA customers.  Our goal is to help rural America prosper, and these state leaders will be of great assistance in that task.”

Lacefield suggested that, at this point, he should probably be identified as an “informed voter” rather than a public official.DSC_8192

“I’m four days on the job,” he observed “so, we’re not going to have a whole lot of update coming from the FSA, my bold vision or agenda.”

Lacefield did have some observations on trade, interest rates, and the Farm Bill, areas he has been familiar with in his previous positions. He most recently served as the Market President of FNB Bank and currently sits on the board of the Kentucky Corn Growers, Kentucky FFA Foundation, and the Kentucky Ag Leadership Program.

Lacefield referenced a trip he made with one of the previous day’s Summit speakers, ag economist Dr. Will Snell from the University of Kentucky as one of the factors that focused him on international trade. “I spent two weeks in New Zealand with Dr. Snell, and that whole country is dependent on trade,” he said. “The ag economy is such a big part of their economy, that it’s all about trade.” He noted one of the principal topics of interest for the farmers there is the international exchange rate and how their dollar is standing up against other currencies.


Brian Lacefield with Joe Cain


Many of the Summit speakers were predicting an increase in interest rates when the Federal Reserve Board meets in December. “Right now, we’ve got about a 75 percent chance of a rate hike coming in the December meetings,” Lacefield concurred. He feels the potential for the increase is tied to the outcome of current federal tax discussions.

On the Farm Bill, Lacefield and Cain agree that there’s little chance of the new legislation taking shape before the current one expires. Lacefield encouraged the audience to take part in upcoming listening sessions to be held by Kentucky Farm Bureau later this month.

The Kentucky Agribusiness Summit is an annual event organized by the Agribusiness Association of Kentucky.

Selling the sizzle AND the steak

By Ray Bowman

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


Jon Bednarski recognizes himself as a niche marketer and he’s OK with that.

“When you start to realize you’re just a very small pea in the pod, you learn that there’s room for all of us.”

The Oldham County cattleman doesn’t want to be the biggest beef producer and marketer in the country, or the state for that matter, but he does want to be one of the best. To accomplish that goal, he has developed some specialized marketing strategies in an attempt to add value to the Belted Galloway steers he backgrounds.DSC_7414

The Direct Connection

Sherwood Acres Farm was founded in 2003 after Bednarski’s family gave him three Belted Galloways for a birthday present. Around 2005 Bednarski and business partner Dan Weintraub decided to take their product straight to the customer through sales at farmer’s markets. “Back then, in a farmer’s market, you saw produce, vegetables, stuff like that, but you didn’t see any meats. So, here we are, brand new farmers, backing up to a farmer’s market and we’re going to sell frozen meat.”

DSC_7512From the beginning, it was apparent that the meat wasn’t going to sell itself. Utilizing direct beef marketing grant funds from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, Bednarski called upon 25 years of sales experience in the log and timber-framed housing business to craft a plan to sell his steaks and roasts. “The first thing we did was produce a website, a brochure and business cards. Then we put together a professional booth layout. We wanted people to think we had been in business five years, not five minutes.”

Sherwood Acres still sells at select farmers markets, arriving in a black and white van painted to suggest the markings of his beloved Beltie steers. The cuts are boneless, so as to prevent puncture of the vacuum packaging, and bear a professionally designed and produced label with the company’s logo and information. Bednarski feels it’s important that the product not only taste good but look good.

DSC_7531The product is also available from a small retail facility, referred to as “The World’s Smallest Beef Shoppe” at the company’s headquarters in LaGrange. Selling mail-order via the internet was also considered, but the logistics of delivering a quality product on such a small scale made the idea impractical.

Adding Value

The primal cuts sold well at the farmers’ markets, but there was a small problem. “We would come home after the weekend, having sold our primal cuts, and we’d have 200 or 300 pounds of ground beef left,” Bednarski explains.

At first, the company investigated selling to restaurants and local markets but found their customers expecting to pay wholesale prices for the product. One exception is the Louisville restaurant, Muscle and Burger Bar. The establishment buys large quantities of the product and pays on delivery. The Sherwood Farms logo is included on the menu, not only to promote the supplier but to also establish the local link, assuring diners that the meat being used was sourced from a nearby producer.

Finding the Niche

DSC_7544Bednarski continues to look for new and better ways to sell his wares and has begun producing a Bacon- Cheeseburger Bratwurst, developed with the assistance of Brooks Meats in Walton. There is also a frozen chili product in the works. These products are targeted for the individual consumer and may also be provided in larger quantities for bigger venues like the Kentucky State Fair and food vendors at sporting events.

“More than ever, today people want to have a connection to the farm,” Bednarski reflects. He thinks that’s the real advantage niche marketers have over larger concerns. “They want to know what goes on behind these gates, and I’m good with that. A niche guy can do that, where a big guy doesn’t have the time to do that.”



Analyst says beef market is improving – for now

By Ray Bowman

(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, November 2 issue)

Troy Applehans flew into Lexington last October and took note of the brown fields. This year as he arrived for the Kentucky Beef Conference, sponsored by the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, things were a lot different. “This country looks WAY better than it did last year,” the CattleFax analyst observed. “It was tough looking flying in here last year about this time. I hadn’t seen this part of the world look like that for a long time.”

But the fields were green as Applehans observed pastures on this year’s inbound flight, a distinct difference from 2016.DSC_8107

The comparison extends to the beef market as well. “I’m sure everyone in this room remembers what last October was like for calf prices,’ Applehans reflected. “Unfortunately, if you had to sell during that time frame, you took the lowest prices that we’ve seen in a long time.”

The U.S. average price for a 550-pound steer last October was $127 per hundredweight, according to Applehans. He told the audience at the Fayette County Extension Office that calves from the southeast were slightly less. “So far, this fall, a lot of these calves are bringing in the $150’s and $160’s for upper-end quality, so it’s much improved over last year.” Applehans attributes the bump to success in the futures market.

DSC_8093UK ag economist Kenny Burdine agrees that the market has seen a slight uptick since a year ago. “We’re about 25-cents a pound higher than we were this time last year, which is over $100 per 550-pound calf. Things are certainly not where we’d like them to be, but we’re certainly better off than we were last year.”

Burdine says it’s difficult to predict which way the prices are going to go, but he points to a few things that might affect them.

“It does appear this cow herd is getting bigger, although it’s getting bigger at a smaller rate” Burdine notes, observing that number grew by three percent for two straight years. But, he says that the likely growth this year will be more like one percent. “The cow herd is still growing, but not at the pace that it was, so I think one positive thing I could say is that the pace of expansion has slowed.”

Another factor that may impact prices is growth in pork and poultry production, meaning more competition at the meat case, which Burdine says “hurts us, somewhat.”

“Price outlook over time may be a little bit softer in 2018, but at the same time, a lot of that can be influenced by exports,” Burdine says. “If we get some good news on the export front, that could certainly offset that increase in production and give us some pretty good news.”

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