Yaks in the Bluegrass

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

By Ray Bowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Incentive announced to bring more local produce to Summer Meal Programs

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

By Ray Bowman

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

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

Quarles media2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KY equine trade with China promises economic potential

By Ray Bowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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