Ky Western River Counties Highlight Ag and Riverport Potential
Monsanto, the Kentucky Farm Bureau and a hemp oil company from California joined some 70 vendors along the banks of the Mississippi River in Ballard County Thursday for the first “River Counties Ag Day.”
The WAVE Initiative - or Western Kentucky Alliance for a Vibrant Economy - hopes to bring economic development to the commonwealth’s far west river counties. Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles addressed the group as the keynote speaker, noting agriculture as the pulse of the river region.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” said Quarles as he acknowledged that agriculture is more than “just being out in a field and raising livestock.”
According to Quarles Kentucky has more beef cattle east of the Mississippi than any other state.
The river served as the backdrop for a breakfast served in honor of farmers before kicking off the vendor exhibition.
“We rank top 15 in grain, a lot of people don't realize that, we are a top 15 grain state in both corn, wheat and soybean. That is something that we can build upon.” Quarles said. “Especially when you have one of the major arteries of the United States commerce.” He said the river transports $405 billion dollars in economic activity each year.
Among other emerging markets Quarles wants to connect rural farmers with a booming bourbon industry. He says between 15 and 20 million bushels of corn are bought a year for bourbon and only half is coming from the Commonwealth. But a possible riverport in Wickliffe could bring those opportunities to the western shores.
WAVE River Counties Ag Day Committee Chair Bob Wilson said the day is largely to support the success of the region’s farms, but also to look forward to investing in the communities.
“That is what is the bottom line --growth. Let’s grow with it. If we can grow we can be a vibrant community.” Wilson said.
Ballard, Carlisle, Hickman and Fulton Counties have suffered a population decrease of more than 4.5 percent over the last few years. WAVE members attribute the loss to the lack of jobs.
“We’ve had the years of a paper mill, of our tire plants and USEC...those were prosperous days.” Wilson said. And he says "we can not look back."
“We were blessed to have those in our communities for 50 years...but now the opportunity has come back to agriculture.” Wilson said.
Their strategic plan places a riverport in Wickliffe as a top prospect for job development. However, representatives say it is just one option the four counties is considering. WAVE has applied for a grant for an economic impact study they hope to finish this time next year.
Wilson announced the WAVE River Counties Ag Day will circulate among counties each year. Next year, Carlisle County will host the event.