By TIM THORNBERRY
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This year’s Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) Annual Meeting gave good news and much information to members from across the state. Besides recognizing outstanding farmers and programs, University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture economists announced the state’s ag sector is about to top $5 billion in cash receipts.
“What will be surprising to many people is that despite the fact that we had one of the worst droughts in our nation’s history, and it’s still ongoing, the USDA is projecting that net farm income will remain near all-time record high levels, certainly considerably above our 10-year average,” UK’s Will Snell said.
“For the first time in history, (Kentucky farms will) exceed $5 billion.”
KFB President Mark Haney made note of that success in his address, and recognized the way in which tobacco settlement funds have been used over the years.
“We should be thankful that our legislature had the foresight and commitment to put this program in place,” he said, in reference to legislation enacted in 2001. “These investments have advanced our infrastructure – as well as marketing and promotional initiatives – to provide producers with better resources to succeed in the marketplace.”
Haney also mentioned critical issues facing farmers, including water quality and concerns about what effect agriculture is having on waterways. He told members this issue should prompt them to reexamine their operations to ensure compliance with Kentucky’s Ag Water Quality Law.
The KFB strongly supported the legislation that passed in 1994, which created guidelines and a cost-share program to help farmers protect water quality. Under the program farmers are required to have state-approved plans to comply with accepted ag practices.
“That program has been enormously successful, but we need to stay current,” Haney said. “I urge producers to review their plan and take steps, if necessary. Through the years we’ve been asked to produce more from less land, while being as efficient as possible. To accomplish that we will need to utilize more water at appropriate periods.
“We need policies to determine how agriculture can gain access to water supplies. This is particularly crucial in West Kentucky, with our larger row crop farms.”
Kentucky’s senior Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell addressed the conference, as well. He said he appreciates the support he has received over the years from Kentucky’s rural communities.
“The Kentucky farmer represents the best of the Bluegrass State. A life in agriculture is a life of responsibility. You get up early, you work hard and you work hard until the day is done,” he said.
“It’s a simple, honest way of life that breeds industry and, very importantly, personal responsibility – things we could use a lot more of in Washington.”
Aleta Botts, the Agricultural Policy Outreach director at the UK College of Agriculture, addressed a group about the status on the farm bill. She said it is changing daily, but is being discussed.
She also said that as of Jan. 1, 2013, a thing called Permanent Law takes over if nothing is done in this current session. What that means is the farm bill passed in 1949 becomes the law of the land if nothing else happens.
Things were quite different 63 years ago and many parties today agree they don’t want that to happen. In order to avoid it, Congress can do a number of different things, noted Botts.
“One is an extension of the current bill. They can retroactively extend the last farm bill into however many crop years, however many months they want to,” she said. “That’s happened in the past and it can happen again.”
No KFB convention would be complete without a long list of people recognized for their achievements in agriculture during the past year. John Kalmey, a dairy farmer from Shelby County, was the winner of KFB’s award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture.
Kenneth Hayden, a row crop farmer from Hardin County, was named winner of the annual award for Distinguished Service to Farm Bureau; Scott Travis of Spencer County was named Farmer of the Year; and Greg and Contessa Harris of Madison County won top honors in Excellence in Agriculture.
Ryan and Misty Bivens of Larue County were honored as the 2012 Outstanding Young Farm Family; Stacy Vincent of Fayette County won first place in the final round of the KFB Discussion Meet; and Contessa Harris was also the recipient of the Excellence in Ag Literacy Award.
Finally, Amy Staton of Bath County was the recipient of KFB’s 2013 Women’s Educational Grant, and Madison County Farm Bureau was honored as 2012 Top County.
The conference wrapped up with the adoption of policy issues for 2013. Tax policies top the state KFB legislative agenda, with emphasis on a statement expressing opposition to any attempt to freeze the real property tax rate.
The agency also “wants to ensure that the state sales tax exemption for production agriculture is not impacted by any tax reform package. Additionally, it has policy to extend the exemption to production items used in the equine industry.”
Other state legislative priorities include supporting the state’s career and technical education programs; and effective wildlife management that will reduce the wildlife population in an effort to alleviate continued crop and livestock losses, automobile accidents, human injuries and loss of life.
Nationally, “KFB calls for addressing the budget deficit with the goal of reaching a balanced budget.” Other policy priorities include permanent repeal of the estate tax and further reductions of capital gains taxes, and reforming the H-2A farm worker program to make it more reliable, economical and accessible.