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  • Writer's pictureG. Huddleston

Agriculture is Trending | August 2014

Although the weather patterns and crop conditions across Kentucky this summer have been wildly inconsistent, the news profile for agriculture and politics has been trending steadily upward in the Commonwealth.

Miss Kentucky 2014, Ramsey Carpenter, showcased the Kentucky State Fair’s grand champion ham to bidders during the 51st annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast and Auction. Photo Credit: Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Farmers are accustomed to getting media attention when the news is bad, and the dry weather in western portions of the state certainly qualified as newsworthy by that standard.

Less common are the bright lights being shone on ag producers and organizations in the run-up to this year's general election, featuring Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes's challenge to Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

On consecutive days in August, Kentucky Farm Bureau hosted high profile events drawing statewide and national-level attention on Kentucky's crucial Senate race, beginning with a forum at its Louisville offices featuring McConnell and Grimes.

Some 30-plus media members covered the face-off, including a reporter with the D.C.-based political blog, which featured a story on the event. The story highlighted the candidates' sparring over the new farm bill, specifically McConnell's touting the much-improved crop insurance program and Grimes's criticism that the delay in passage caused the old farm bill to lapse.

Less than 24 hours later the annual State Fair Country Ham Breakfast brought the ag-political linkage back into focus. There Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear touted the numbers of Kentuckians who have been able to obtain new health insurance coverage as a result of Obamacare and the Kynect statewide health exchange.

McConnell countered that Obamacare is causing major rate increases for existing health policyholders and the sharp rise in new Medicaid beneficiaries will be a major strain on the state budget after federal subsidies are scaled back.

The Grand Champion Country Ham brought a record-smashing $2 million thanks to the generosity of Republic Bank and Louisville businessmen Junior Bridgeman and Steve Wilson. But the political drama almost overshadowed the tense bidding for the ham, as Agriculture Commissioner James Comer talked of his quest for the governor's chair.

Comer, a Monroe County farmer, wants to parlay his service in the legislature and as ag commissioner, into the state's top post. He faces Louisville businessman Hal Heiner in the Republican primary next May, and possibly Attorney General Jack Conway in the November 2015 general election.

Shifting away from politics, the State Fair itself garnered plenty of media attention for agriculture, despite being buffeted by bad weather and a social media-inspired crime scare. Nightly TV news accounts of youngsters grooming their lambs and families bunking in the West Wing with their prized livestock put the story of farmers' dedication and determination into the living rooms of thousands of urban households.

The horror of the Ebola outbreak in Africa shone a light of hope for those victims with news that an experimental treatment for the heretofore incurable disease was being developed using Kentucky tobacco plants as hosts for the possibly lifesaving extract.

Rounding out the ag media scorecard, reports that Kentucky's first industrial hemp test plots are growing well helped illustrate the relentless search for new farm income opportunities in the commonwealth. Like virtually all ag ventures, if the market for hemp continues to grow there's little doubt that farmers will be able to produce to that demand.

In summary, August produced a number of high-profile news stories that were linked in one way or another to Kentucky agriculture. Farmers may comprise only about 2 per cent of the nation's population but it's obvious that even in today's media-saturated world, we still pack quite a punch.

Gary Huddleston | AIN Chairman

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