Agriculture important to state, Quarles says

Only manufacturing plays a bigger role in Kentucky’s economy than agriculture, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles told the 40th annual Farm City Breakfast on Saturday morning at Daviess County High School.

Between 450 and 500 people turned out for the event.

Leigh Ann Hancock Kuegel was named Farm City Humanitarian of the year.

Candance Castlen Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, said Kuegel “is involved in everything, behind the scenes. She’s the wind beneath the community’s wings.”

Agriculture contributes $47 billion to the state’s economy, Quarles said.

That’s 20 percent of the state’s total economy.

And it creates 220,000 jobs, he said.

The state’s 76,000 farms average 164 acres, Quarles said.

Twenty years ago, he said, 85,000 farms were growing tobacco in the state.

Today, only 4,000 are.

That means the state’s farms are changing and adding new crops.

The latest is industrial hemp.

In Daviess County, Quarles said, 35 farmers are growing hemp this year.

Americans spend 6 to 8 percent of their income on food, he said.

In some parts of the world, Quarles said, people spend more than 50 percent of their income on food.

Farmers, he said, have doubled production in the past 50 years.

Quarles said a recent poll found that 16 million Americans think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

The agriculture community needs to continue to educate the public about their food and where it comes from, he said.

Two years ago, he said, 40 percent of the corn in Kentucky bourbon was grown in the state.

Today, Quarles said, it’s more than 50 percent.

A problem facing the farm community in the near future, he said, is that the average age of Kentucky farmers is 62.

And one-third of farmers 65 and older do not have a succession plan for their farms, Quarles said.

There are 837 farms in Daviess County, he said, with a $176 million impact on the community.

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican, told the crowd that “free and fair trade is important.”

The United States can’t allow China to have an unfair trade advantage, he said.

But, Guthrie said, the people most affected by the current trade war are the farmers.

He said, “I believe we’ll come to some agreement with China soon.”

By Keith Lawrence Messenger-Inquirer