Rooster Booster highlights agriculture

Agriculture was on display Thursday for the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Rooster Booster Breakfast.

Daviess County Cooperative Extension Office and Kentucky Farm Bureau co-sponsored the breakfast.

And instead of the traditional one keynote speaker, the large crowd gathered on the third floor of the Owensboro Convention Center heard from a four-person, agribusiness panel — Daniel Hayden, Brandon Gilles, state Sen. Matt Castlen and Suzanne Cecil White.

Prior to the panel taking the floor, Clint Hardy, extension office ag agent, spoke briefly about the importance of farming to Daviess County’s economy and how it has taken a negative hit financially in recent years.

“We were about a $200 million gross-crop county in 2013,” Hardy said. “That’s only cash generated from crop production in Daviess County and you all know that many of our farm businesses operate in counties surrounding us as well. You fast forward to 2017, we had an erosion of $50 million — 25% of our gross revenue receipts declined during that period of time … just due to an erosion in commodity prices and revenues.”

The discussion was moderated by Daviess County farmer Rod Kuegel who asked a series of three questions for each panelist to answer.

Kuegel complimented the four agribusiness leaders by saying they were doing their part in moving Kentucky forward and helping to remove the stereotype of a state that’s always playing catch-up.

“Mark Twain said that ‘when the end of the world comes, I want to be in Kentucky; they’re 20 years behind everything’,” Kuegel said. “We’ve got a panel here today that is changing that. They’re changing our position not only in the nation but in the state and in the community.”

The first question posed to the panel was how to make Owensboro a unique place for young people to return to and live?

Castlen said the diversity of businesses, the access to health care and the Ohio River as a major waterway make Owensboro an attractive city.

“If I were a young person and if I was looking for a place to settle, this would be a community I would look at,” Castlen said. “You can’t go down the road more than 2 miles, 3 miles and you’ll pass a church. The moral fiber of this community is here.”

White, who operates Cecil Farms Produce LLC, said she left the family farm and Daviess County to become a teacher but returned unsure about how she would be welcomed back.

“Coming back to the farm was the last thing I ever imagined I would do and now I’ve embraced it since 2011,” said White who less than a year ago opened a multi-purpose venue called White Chateau at Cecil Farms. “…I’ve been able to do new things; I’ve been able to throw out new ideas and they’ve been embraced. You haven’t required me to do the same old thing. …As I look for people to work for me at my operation every year, I’m looking for that young person to step on my farm and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this?’ I want those different ideas because that’s what Owensboro has been to me and that’s what I’m looking for from the young community.”

Kuegel then asked the panel how do young people overcome adversities as they try to make it in agriculture?

Gilles, a financial officer at Farm Credit Mid-America, said it’s difficult for young people to obtain the start-up money required to expand or diversify their farm businesses.

“The biggest thing that young farmers have issues getting is that access to capital,” Gilles said. “…We have a young farmer program … it just loosens our underwriting standards and we do an educational program. So we go through a financial boot camp with our young farmers.”

And the third question asked was what could the Chamber do better to attract young people to the community?

Hayden, a cattle and poultry producer, said the Chamber’s marketing efforts combined with farmers being open to self-promotion will go a long way to making Owensboro-Daviess County more appealing.

“I keep my nose to the grindstone at my farm most of the time, and I poke my head out just to scream about what we’re doing on our farm every once and awhile,” said Hayden, who built one of the country’s first poultry viewing rooms. “That’s one thing we’ve tried to do on our farm is promote what we’re doing.”

The next Rooster Booster Breakfast is scheduled for March 5 at 7:30 a.m. at the Owensboro Convention Center.

By Don Wilkins Messenger-Inquirer