KENTUCKY (5/10/12) – State agencies have had a hard row to hoe over the past five years. All agencies have faced budget cuts, some more than others.
In fact, over a billion dollars—$1.3 billion total—has been cut from all state agencies over since 2007, and that was with the help of around $3 billion in federal stimulus funds that were invested in Kentucky between 2009 and 2011.
While Kentucky doesn’t have any more federal stimulus dollars scheduled to come our way, the economy is starting to look up. State revenues grew in March by more than 8 percent, with receipts up $57 million from March 2011. That is good news for all our agencies, including the Department of Agriculture.
And the Department has earned some good news, because some amazing things are happening in agriculture in our state.
Kentucky is the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi with nearly 1 million head of beef from Pikeville to Paducah. It should come as no surprise that the Department of Agriculture has played a key role in building this $1.8 billion state industry, through such efforts as helping producers find new markets, tracking market prices and implementing programs that protect herds from disease.
The Department’s incredibly successful Kentucky Proud initiative serves as a model for states as far away as Alaska, while generating over $200 million in retail sales of Kentucky farm products annually through Kentucky Proud member retailers alone.
The Commonwealth again has a thriving grape and wine industry that harkens back to the state’s prowess in grape and win production before Prohibition, thanks in part to Kentucky Proud and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund. At least 63 wineries and over 600 acres of grapes are in production today in Kentucky, and several Kentucky Proud wines are winning major awards in competitions across the country.
The growing statewide popularity of farmers’ markets has led to a new competitive grant program that will allot 2012 Agricultural Development Funds to build new market facilities and expand existing ones.
What’s more, the biennial state Executive Branch budget approved by lawmakers this year includes $1 million over the next two years for capital improvements at county fairs, continued budgetary support for the PACE program (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement), $1 million in grants for animal shelter projects, among other projects.
Many agricultural projects are, of course, continually funded by payments from the Phase I Master Settlement Agreement. Our MSA payments over the next two years are expected to be to the tune of about $182.9 million, with 50 percent--estimated at around $45.9 million in fiscal year 2013 and $45.2 million in fiscal year 2014—budgeted for agricultural development projects paid for through the state Agricultural Development Fund.
As I mentioned earlier, part of these funds will be spent on the Farmers’ Market Infrastructure Competitive Grant Program. The program—which is offered by the Ag Development Board—will provide up to $250,000 in state funds, with any one market eligible to receive up to $25,000. All applications for this program are going to be scored, ranked and awarded at the same time, with June 29 as the application deadline.
The Board is also stepping up on-farm investment by approving up to $2 million for its On-farm Energy Efficiency and Improvement grant program that incentivizes farmers to increase fuel efficiency and renewable fuel production. The deadline for that program passed on April 30, but it will be a major help to those who were able to tap into this funding this year.
Action taken outside of the two-year state budget during the 2012 Regular Session includes passage of a bill that will create new opportunities for investment in agriculture and other industries, along with new liability protections for the state’s agri-tourism industry and a resolutions that sends a strong message to Washington about the child farm labor issue. I will share information about that legislation, in detail, in my correspondence to you next week.
I trust that, as we finish this warm spring and enter the summer months, there will be a lot of opportunities in our communities to buy produce direct from our local farmers—either through a delivery service, buying on-farm, roadside stands, or a farmers market. Please take these opportunities to support local agricultural, and help yourself to some delicious locally produced food. It’s good stuff!
Have a good week.
Rep. Brent Yonts
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