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Kentucky's ag landscape continues to undergo diversification

© Clay Cook 2020
Kentucky Department of Agriculture
© Clay Cook 2020

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said the Commonwealth’s farming industry has always been diversified. But the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement put changes on the farm into a much higher gear. Quarles said many would say supplemental agriculture has worked to a great degree. “We diversified from what was a crop that was responsible for one-third of all of our cash receipts. It’s now four percent of our cash receipts with the tobacco still grown. But yet, our agricultural economy diversified and actually doubled in size over the past 20 years, thanks to the help of the ag development board,” said Quarles.

Quarles said poultry is now number one and beef cattle are found on half of all Kentucky farms. While the amount of money coming to Kentucky from that historic tobacco settlement more than 20 years ago has declined, Quarles noted there was an unanticipated bump in funds this past year. The ag commissioner added that came with an increased sale of tobacco products during COVID.

Quarles said more than a billion dollars in settlement monies have been reinvested in Kentucky farms. In the next decade, Quarles envisions continued investment in livestock, grains, and specialty crops. “I also think you’re going to see agriculture become digitized. It’s one of the last industries to have automation, so I could see some of our diversification efforts being spent trying to solve the labor crisis as well as other issues that are not just unique to agriculture, but nationwide,” said Quarles.

Quarles said the Kentucky Ag Finance Corporation has helped with capital improvements on the farm and land acquisition. The ag commissioner looks for hemp production to stabilize. The state agricultural development board just approved $1.4 million for projects. These included beekeeping, on-farm water management, and next-generation farming support.
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Stu Johnson
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