By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The state’s cattle industry has grown over the last decade to the point where its farmers are now the largest producers east of the Mississippi River, and fifth in the nation.
Along with that growth has come a heightened awareness of just how good Kentucky cattle are.
Much of the growth can be attributed to the contributions made by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board (KADB) through tobacco settlement funds.
The Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund (KADF) has invested millions of dollars into state and county agricultural projects, all to strengthen the industry as a whole.
So far those investments have paid off. The state is likely to pass the $5 billion mark in agriculture cash receipts for 2012, something that has never happened, although receipts have been near that level for the past few years.
During a recent KADB meeting, nearly $3.5 million worth of ag development funds were invested in the state’s dairy and beef cattle industries.
According to a project summary provided by the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP), the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, Inc. (KDDC) requested $1.87 million in state funds for calendar years 2013 and 2014 “to continue educating, representing and promoting Kentucky’s dairy producers and the dairy industry as a whole.”
The request includes $1 million for the Market Incentive Leadership for Kentucky (MILK) Program and $863,900 for KDDC and Kentucky Dairy Improvement Program (KDIP) administrative costs. The KDDC was created by legislative statute to help strengthen Kentucky’s dairy sector.
Maury Cox, the group’s executive director, said the programs the two-year grant supports help put money back into the pockets of dairy producers. “The MILK program, so far, has put out $3.3 million back directly to dairy farmers,” he said.
According to information from the KDDC, MILK was created “to provide incentives to Kentucky dairy farmers to produce more high-quality milk within the state, to minimize hauling cost and keep milk dollars in Kentucky.”
Cox said approximately 45-50 percent of the milk produced in the state comes from that program and 25 percent of producers are signed up for MILK.
Other dairy programs for which the funding will be used include a young dairy producer program to help expose them to the opportunities in the dairy industry – something that proves valuable to new producers, said Cox.
The KDDC also has four regional dairy consultants that are constantly in the field helping dairy producers across the state. “They work one-on-one, on a daily basis with dairy farmers in their specific regions,” he explained.
That work includes tasks such as helping get energy grant funds for dairy operations or working with local extension personnel on feed problems, or training sessions, to name a few.
The dairy business has taken it lumps over the past few years and many producers have opted to get out, but Cox said those numbers are slowing now with some new operations getting started.
“We actually had an increase in production during the first couple of quarters in 2012,” he said. “That (increase) reversed a longtime trend.”
Another bit of good news for the KDDC MILK program is an overall higher production per cow, by as much as 5,000 pounds per animal over the statewide average.
“That, to me, is saying 5,000 pounds of milk per cow at $20 per hundredweight over the course of a year will add up to some money,” Cox said.
He added the upswings being experienced in the state’s dairy sector come from a unified effort between partners such as University of Kentucky extension, those in the dairy industry and the KADB.
The Kentucky Beef Network (KBN) was another faction of the state’s livestock industry approved for state funds totaling $1.58 million, to be disbursed over a two-year period.
The funding will be used for the continuing training of beef cattle producers to produce and market a quality product at a reasonable and sustainable profit, through new programs such as Professional Cattlemen and Young Cattlemen/Farm Link, along with continuing programs like Marketing Communications, Master Cattleman and more, according to information from the GOAP.
Dave Maples, executive director of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Assoc., said funding from the KADF has done much good for the cattle industry over the last decade. “These grants allow us to do a lot of on-farm projects and a lot of educational programs,” he said. “And we couldn’t do a lot of this if we didn’t have the grants.”
Maples emphasized how the quality of the state’s cow herd has increased as these investments have been made.
“I know that by just listening to some of the buyers that purchase Kentucky cattle, the improvement both in genetics and animal health has been dramatic,” he explained. “A lot of that goes straight back to these funds.”
Not only have state funds been beneficial, but so have the County Cost-Share programs, he said. That money has allowed farmers to buy needed equipment, among other things. Maples also pointed out the advantages the fund has had on the economic development in rural areas through cost-share programs.
“The amount of money that has been spent back in these rural communities has been tremendous, and I think this economic incentive deal has been wonderful,” he said. “So you’ve got that as well as the improvement in the cattle and the net income for the farms.”
Maples also made note of the job the KADB has done for all of agriculture throughout the state.
“I’m so proud of what they have done with these dollars and the accountability of where the money has been spent. You’ve got to give credit to the Ag Development Board and its staff for keeping this thing at the level it is,” he said.