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Sep. 22—"America spends less money on food each year than any other country in the world."
That was the quote of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles to members of the London — Laurel County Chamber of Commerce last week.
But despite its many agricultural benefits, many Kentuckians still suffer from food insecurity.
That is one reason why Quarles travels the state, encouraging farmers to continue on with their mission of food production, whether it be meat, fruit or vegetables.
Quarles is no stranger to the agricultural world, having grown up on a farm himself. He praises those commercial farmers who produce food for their own families as well as growing crops to assist others with high quality products.
"There are over 76,000 farms in Kentucky," Quarles said. "We are working to create initiatives to combat hunger and we need to realize how agriculture affects all of us."
He added that 97% of the 856 commercial farms in Kentucky are operated by families, pumping approximately $15 million per year back into the economy. He said he wants to inspire the younger generation to appreciate — and participate in — the farming industry and its contributions to the economy, both locally and globally.
"We started a program called Grow Apples to Zucchini — and Everything in Between," he explained.
Kentucky, he said, is one of the nation's top agricultural states, ranking in the Top 15 in grain production.
"That includes corn, wheat and soybeans," he said. "We produce 10 million barrels of bourbon aging and under new regulations requiring corn to be used in the bourbon, we produce 20 million bushels of corn each year."
Kentucky is also a huge cattle producing state, being the second largest cattle producer "east of the Mississippi," he added.
Unbeknownst to many, however, Kentucky is also the second largest producer of sheep in the United States, adding that sheep was once a large agricultural asset of Laurel County.
While the state was once heralded as one of the largest producers of tobacco, the settlement money from tobacco companies is now being funneled toward finding new crops and agricultural products. Quarles said meat processing facilities are needed across the state to achieve that goal, with the tobacco settlement money being used to establish such facilities. Currently Louisville hosts two meat processing facilities, with JBS being the largest processing plant in the state. But more are needed and Quarles hopes to see such facilities spring up around the state to accommodate a constantly growing need.
Solar farms are also a topic for future agricultural opportunities, he said, adding that we need "more locally fed, bred and processed protein" to elevate the farming industry to a higher level.
While broadband Internet services are still unavailable to many Kentuckians, especially those in rural and mountainous areas, Quarles said providing those services was also vital to the future success of the farming industry.
The increased trade agreements with other countries to purchase America's agricultural products has been beneficial to the farming industry, with Kentucky produce and products making a major contribution.
"The number 1 issue is having an access to a work force," he said. "If you've ever had a garden or raised produce, you know that you can plan and plant, but the weather can destroy a crop. We need to always encourage our farmers."