A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – Earlier this summer, Kentucky’s farming community got a jolt when the United States Department of Agriculture reported that no state had lost a greater percentage of farmland between 2007 and 2012.
Our 6.7 percent decline totaled almost a million acres, which is larger than Land Between the Lakes and the Daniel Boone National Forest combined. As for the number of farms, they dropped from 85,260 to 77,064.
Agricultural officials note that these figures tend to fluctuate during each five-year census of America’s farmland, and a separate study found that Kentucky’s rural land base declined relatively little during that time because of development. In other words, much of the “lost” farmland likely looks no different than it did in 2007.
While this is a trend that certainly needs to be monitored, it is crucial to note that our farmers continue to prove the adage that less really is more. Fewer farms have not meant fewer sales.
Last year set state records in both corn and soybean production, for example, while tobacco reached totals not regularly seen since the quota system was in place and the wheat harvest was the biggest since 1982.
There are positive signs that this year could be even better, based on the fact that our farmers planted tens of thousands of more acres of corn and soybeans and the recent news that three-fourths of these crops are in excellent or good shape as we look toward the fall.
High yields aren’t the only thing in our farmers’ favor; they’re extremely diverse, too. Kentucky ranks among the top 20 states in nearly 10 agricultural categories, with horses first and tobacco second. The others on the list include poultry, hogs, corn for grain, soybeans, hay, wheat and cattle, of which we have more than every state east of the Mississippi River.
Other categories are also doing well. Our dairy farms generated 130 million gallons of milk in 2012; farmers planted 13,000 acres in fruits and vegetables last year; and the combined number of sheep and goats across the state is close to 140,000.
Overall, total commodity sales last year neared $6 billion, which is about a billion dollars more than the year before. More broadly, Kentucky’s farms are the foundation for $46 billion in annual revenue, according to a study last year by the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The industry employs 90,000 directly and helps support 144,000 others whose jobs depend on the raw goods farming provides.
One of the fastest growing trends in agriculture can be found across most towns during late spring and summer. Our country has about 8,100 farmers markets, including almost 150 here in Kentucky. August 3rd through the 9th is National Farmers Market week, so if you haven’t visited one of our area markets, now is the ideal time to start.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts about this issue or anything else affecting the state our community, don’t hesitate to contact me. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.