Commissioner of Ag Ryan Quarles's Visit with AIN | February 2016
Protect, promote and defend farmers-that's how Kentucky's new commissioner of agriculture sees his job as he gets settled in as the state's highest ranking elected farm leader.
Ryan Quarles of Georgetown was sworn into his new office Jan. 4 following victory in the November general election. He took time to visit the Agribusiness Industry Network Feb. 11 during a stopover at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville.
Quarles has the reins at an agency with a diverse set of responsibilities touching not just the farming industry, but also consumers, food processors and sellers and a variety of commercial and retail interests. Primary among those tasks, however, is his early-term focus on highlighting the economic footprint of agriculture in the commonwealth.
"This industry is not only important in the rural areas of Kentucky, it's also a major player in the economies of our urban centers, especially here in Louisville," Quarles told the group.
Pointing to the farm machinery show, he added, "We have to protect these signature events we have and the critical role agribusiness plays in all our cities."
Quarles pledged to support and grow the Kentucky Proud program, which promotes the use of Kentucky farm and craft products by retail grocers, processors and restaurants. And he said agriculture education in schools will be a priority of his as he navigates his four-year term in Frankfort.
He touched on the regulatory challenges facing farmers, especially proposed new clean water regulations being pushed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He said he and his staff will monitor those and other federal mandates, and work with other ag organizations to ensure that producers are treated fairly.
Quarles said the development of new enterprises for Kentucky farmers will continue to be critical, including the ongoing pilot plots of industrial hemp, the possibility of producing hops for brewers and the need for white oak barrel materials for the rapidly expanding bourbon distilling industry.
This year 180 Kentucky farmers are approved to plant 4,000 acres of hemp as part of the University of Kentucky's research program. Quarles said it's not yet clear what the market might be for hemp but that it's important to keep Kentucky in the forefront of the industry and to develop new marketing and processing facilities in order to fully test the crop's potential.
The loss of Lexington's Bluegrass Stockyards to fire was a blow to Central Kentucky's livestock industry, Quarles noted, but he said he's confident the facility will be built back, either on its original site or at an alternate location if that turns out to be most feasible.
Quarles, who at 32 is the youngest statewide elected official in the nation, noted that his family has farmed in Scott County for better than 200 years. He served three terms as a Republican state representative prior to seeking the ag commissioner post.
Gary Huddleston | AIN Chairman