Ray HagermanHOPKINS COUNTY, Ky. (1/15/19) — Let’s start with some numbers about Hopkins County and agriculture:

• Hopkins ranked 13th among Kentucky’s 120 counties in terms of total agriculture sales (nearly $108 million), per the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

• We experienced 40-percent growth in market value of agricultural products sold from 2007 to 2012.

• Over the same span, Hopkins had 11-percent growth in its number of farms but only 2-percent growth in the amount of land devoted to farmers, which worked out to a 7-percent decline in the average size of our individual farms.

So what picture is painted by the numbers of agriculture in Hopkins County?

It’s clear that farming is an increasingly important sector of our local economy, and it’s encouraging that more of our local people are reaping its benefits. What’s more, key dynamics in the agriculture industry are opening doors for individuals of a wider variety of skills and talents to participate.

“In my opinion, I think there are a lot of underlying factors here,” said Curtis Dame, Hopkins County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. “One factor is that we have a lot of individuals here in the county who have bought 10, 15, or 20 acres and have worked to figure out how to use that land either for income or to raise their own food.”

“Also, we’re seeing a lot of people adopt innovative practices in and around farming. They’re very active and hard workers. For example, we have new and experienced farmers using reclaimed mine ground for cattle production—from my experience, you have to be a pretty good operator to do that.”

It’s a quickly evolving space.

Studies consistently show that Americans want to better understand and verify where their food comes from, and that trend is impacting our local agriculture scene. For example, Deer Creek Farms of Hanson took part hosting annual Leadership Hopkins County classes designed to identify, educate and inspire leaders to serve our community and decided to tool its beef herd to sell to the local market. And, at our December gathering of 1 Million Cups, we heard our new neighbor, Yaneth Peach, present on her work with Madisonville Community College and plans to launch her Honduras-based lettuce and hydroponic-vegetables business, Greenhouse Harvest, in the United States.

The Internet of Things (or “IoT”), real-time data analysis, unmanned aerial vehicles and other leading-edge technologies are being counted upon to deliver more efficiency to agriculture, as it is estimated that the world needs to find a way to produce roughly 100 percent more food for its swelling population by 2050. And, again, evidence of that trend is visible in Hopkins County. Progress Multimedia’s Earl Force One, a tenant at Kentucky Innovation Station, provides aerial drone 3D mapping, videography and photography services to a wide variety of markets, including agriculture for farm, fence and livestock inspection. Using special goggles wirelessly connected to the drone’s camera, clients can look and control the camera with the client’s head movement during the live mission. Real-time pictures and video selected by the client can be recorded directly to the goggle’s SD card.

Legal and regulatory developments are altering the local agriculture landscape, too. The 2018 farm bill made the commercial cultivation, research and development of hemp legal in the United States. Several local residents have been exploring or already are pursuing business opportunities—growing hemp, testing it or selling food, fuel, textiles and wellness products based on it—in a bid to stake their claim in what could be a gold rush around the crop.

The Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation is working to nurture growth in our local agriculture industry. Agribusiness is one of the market spaces where we plan to roll out more entrepreneurship support services in 2019. Plus, along with the Hopkins County Cooperative Extension Service, we are again sponsoring the Roots to Riches Agriculture Conference, a comprehensive day of learning about agricultural business management and emerging technologies. The third-annual event is scheduled for Feb. 1 at the Ballard Convention Center at 605 E. Arch St. in Madisonville. Registration deadline is Jan. 25 and costs $15.

“It’s a great program,” Curtis Dame said. “Last year, I know of about 10 or 15 people who were able to make major improvements in what they were doing—helping them make efficient production decisions and be better stewards of our land.”

Roots to Riches is designed for anyone who farm, wants to farm or is any way interested in a business involving agriculture. It’s a great opportunity for you to imagine your next or first step in one of Hopkins County’s growth industries. 

Ray Hagerman is president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corp. https://www.westcentralky.com, which promotes and recruits commercial enterprises that offer quality jobs and encourages expansion and retention of existing businesses.

SurfKY News

Information provided by Ray Hagerman

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