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ELECTION 2011: Agriculture Commissioner

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Bob Farmer

Bob Farmer

Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture

 

1. Why are you seeking this office?

BF: Well, you I come at it from a different angle than a lot of people seeking office. I've had my own business for 30 years, marketing, advertising, public relations. And I want to use my life skills as a business person, a marketing person, 'cause that's a big big part of this job, marketing, to help the people of Kentucky and rural Kentuckians, in particular.

I'm not seeking it as a stepstone to another office because, frankly, I'm just too old to start a political career now. This will be the only office I ever run for. That's for sure.

 

2. What experiences and qualifications have prepared you to serve as commissioner of agriculture?

BF: Well, when people ask that, I always give them a review of the job. And people are surprised, really, because commissioner of agriculture, I think, is a misnomer. It should be commissioner of regulations and agricultural promotion. The job itself, you have almost 300 people in the department and almost a $30 million budget. Now, that's taxpayers money. You got to manage the people wisely and manage the money very wisely. Then you've got mandatory inspections that need to be made. Sixty-five percent of the people in the department have nothing to do with farming. They're out there inspecting gas pumps, scales, every little grocery store, rides at fairs. These are all things that come under that department. Pesticide control and things like that. After you get done with managing the people and the money and all those mandatory inspections, then you're supposed to be the chief marketing agent and spokesman-advocate-lobbyist for Kentucky agriculture. And that's where my experience comes in. All I've done all my life is manage people and done marketing. So, that's my qualification.

I'll say this - it's almost a slogan. My opponent thinks it's a contest about who's the best farmer, and who knows the most about farming. And I say no. It's not about who's the best farmer, but who's best for the farmers. And there's a big difference there.

 

3. Where do you see the Master Settlement Agreement Fund in five or 10 years? How should those funds be used? And should the state continue to set aside 50 percent of those funds for the Agriculture Development Board?

BF: Well, yeah, definitely. Even the governor said they are going to guard that with everything they got and continue to set that money aside. That money has been wisely spent and wisely used. And here we are now, the largest cattle-producing state east of the Mississippi River. I think it's largely due to a lot of that money and education and retooling, so to speak, you know, from tobacco to cattle.

And, of course, you know poultry is the number one. So we're in a real transition period, and we want to guard that money carefully and make sure it's wisely administered.

 

4. The horse industry has been Kentucky's signature industry for decades, but it has had some struggles in recent years. What steps should the state take to promote this industry?

BF: First and foremost, horse people do not get the same tax breaks that other livestock owners get. They have to pay sales tax on their feed an items like that. So the first thing you want to do is to change the tax structure to allow horse people to enjoy those same benefits. And, of course, when it comes to thoroughbreds, you want to protect that breeders incentive program that they have. You want to lend your marketing expertise to the thoroughbred industry, at least.

And the horse industry is a whole lot bigger than thoroughbreds, but you want to lend your expertise to that to keep Kentucky thoroughbreds occupying a number one spot in people's minds. 'Cause when you say Kentucky thoroughbreds, everybody  in the United States has a picture of what that is. Those are the best thoroughbreds that are bred in Kentucky. They're better than thoroughbreds that are bred in Florida or Texas or California. That's a marketing thing and we want to keep that going.

 

5. What do you see as some of the biggest issues facing Kentucky's dairy farmers? And what should the state do to promote dairy across the state?

BF: You know, I think that's the hardest job in ag, dairy farming. That's just a tough, tough job to do. And, you know, I'm not sure what the Department of Agriculture can do to help pricing, you know, retail pricing. When it comes to farming in general, in my mind, it's all about improving net farm income.

So, anything and everything we can do to improve net farm income for all types of farming, we can do it. Or, will do it.

A lot of things, the pricing, especially in the milk industry, that pricing is beyond our control. But we can lobby and advocate the best we can for Kentucky's dairy farmers.

 

6. Should ethanol subsidies continue to help with research and development of alternative fuels? How much should the development of ethanol on food prices for humans and feed prices for livestock be considered?

BF: Yeah, I think ethanol subsidies should continue. Ethanol research should continue. However, I'm not a huge ethanol champion, although I like it. In fact, I love the product. But there are a lot of other alternative fuels out there that are quite viable. And maybe might not affect corn prices like the ethanol does. I've toured the ethanol plant in Hopkinsville. And there's plenty of corn down there to go around.

Now could we support a dozen or 15 ethanol plants? No, I don't think so, right now. But we could support a few more alternative fuel plants, whatever that might be ? beats or switchgrass or something like that.

So, alternative fuels is a real high priority. In fact, it's one of my seven priorities on the website. To really get into alternative fuels tidal wave, I think, and Kentucky has really sort of stood back on that. We really haven't been forceful in that area, and we need to get forceful in the alternative fuels industry. So, that's one of my priorities.

 

7. Given the budget issues facing the state, how important is it to continue funding for soil conservation efforts?

BF: Well, I think it's real important. Soil conservation is important, but it's also important to know that we're under attack from activist groups and people like the EPA. So we've got to stay ahead of all these activist groups, so we can call the shots, and keep the government and these activities off of our farms. So that's a big concern also.

 

8. What changes, if any, will you make to the management of the agriculture department?

BF: Well, I think it will be big. I think there will be a lot of changes. I can't say right now, what changes will be made, other than I will run it like a business. Now, the first thing you do if you buy a new business, the first thing you is audit the books. You see where you are and where money has been spent, where it's been wasted, how it can be spent more efficiently. And that's what we're going to do.

The first thing we're going to do is sell Richie Farmer's luxury SUV. I'm not ever going to sit in it. I'm gonna sell that thing and drive my own car. Then we're going to do a complete audit, find out where we are, come up with a program, you know, of how we can just more efficiently run that department.

 

9. One clear difference between the candidates in this race is experience on the farm. Is this essential to hold the office? Why or why not?

BF: It's definitely not. And you know, I think it's a little bit of a hinderance to have some farm experience because nobody has all the farm experience you need - in livestock and crops and commodities and everything thats out there. Nobody has all the experience. If you've got some experience you come in with for and against certain commodities. And I'm not like that at all. Farming is a business. And I am a businessman. I'm gonna help, and the number one goal of our administration is rural economic development and increasing net farm income. That's our number one goal. In that vein, I'm gonna get away from Frankfort, establishing at least four or more regional offices around the state. Not bricks and mortar, but just a presence, you know. We'll have a presence. The number one goal of each office is rural economic development. And, so, you know, and running it like a business. These offices will have certain standards they have to meet. And if they don't, we'll close it down and move to another location.

There's another big difference, and that's in our career path, but I guess, I can answer that later if you want me to.

 

10. How will the Dept. of Agriculture encourage agriculture education if you are elected?

BF: That's something that we just won't let up on. Young people are leaving the farm, and that's not a good thing. We would like to keep ag education, particularly about alternative crops and things like that, in the forefront. The Department of Agriculture has a lot to do with ag education. I want to keep that in the mainstream, in the forefront, and get it in places that, maybe, it hasn't been before. I'm talking about, you know, some elementary schools that can have gardens. And this is a Jane Beshear program. I have to give her credit for that. Where you plant gardens beside elementary schools, and children work in the gardens. Then they see the fruition of their work, and see it brought into the cafeteria, and use the full circle thing. But education is vital.

And we've got, to keep young people on the farm, we've got to show them how staying on the farm is profitable to them. We can talk about lifestyle and the beauty of the farm and all that stuff. But if they have to struggle to survive, you know, that's a bad thing. So, we've got to show them how they can make money and do better than they can in some industrial job in a metro area.

 

11. Production of industrial hemp is an issue that has been raised during the campaign as well. Do you favor or oppose allowing industrial hemp to be grown in Kentucky? Why or why not?

BF: Well, I favor it under certain circumstances. It's a fabulous product. It's a really, really nice product. And we can be at the forefront, we can be the leader in the hemp industry in the United States. As far as I'm concerned, it has to be OK with the lawmakers and the police and that sort of thing. I was endorsed by the FOP, and they asked me that same question. And I say, if it's OK with you guys, it's OK with me.

But I would take it a step further and say we should issue annual permits to hemp growers. And that, meaning, that if somebody wants to grow hemp, they come to the county courthouse or whatever, and they apply for the permit. We run a background check on them. If they've got a good record, they get a one-year permit, and that allows the Department of Agriculture or the police, law enforcement to inspect their farm at any time. But it is an absolutely fabulous product. It's a great alternative crop to a lot of things. So, I'm kind of excited about that if it's done right.

 

12. How important is the Kentucky Proud Program, and what, if any, changes would you make to that program?

BF: Well, it's an important program. It's program that's going to stay in place, but it's going to be administered more effectively. And it's going to be easier for growers and other people to participate in it. I want to make things easy. I don't want to make it hard for people to participate. But we're going to expand it. WE're living in a worldwide economy now. So, why can't we have Kentucky Proud products sold over the Internet, sold in foreign countries. And I want to do what Joe Stewart Brown just started doing, and that was taking items like Kentucky quilts up to New York. You put 'em in a retail store, and it become and artform almost, and yo can sell 'em for $4,000. There's a beautiful store in Berea called the Kentucky Artisan Center. That has to do with the Kentucky Arts Council. But still, that store, a store like that, I don't know why you couldn't have a store like that in New York, L.A., Chicago. You could sell and you could quadruple your prices you're getting in Berea now.

So, those are the marketing ideas that I have. I'm excited about putting my marketing expertise to work for all Kentucky, but especially in the area of Kentucky Proud. 

 

13.  other issues would you like voters to consider?

BF: Well, the two differences between my opponent and myself. One is the farm background versus non-farm background. You know, if it's about who is the best farmer, there's about 300 farmers in Marion County that's much more qualified than either one of us. So I think certainly it's by no means about that.

The second issue that voters need to look at is what's the vision of the person running for office. Here you got a guy that's me, 61 years old, 30-year career of having my own business in marketing so forth. I'm not running for another office. This isn't a career for me. I'm not trying to boost my pay or pension increase or anything like that 'cause I'm not getting a pension, you know. And I simply want to do, to use my expertise to help Kentuckians, the rural Kentuckians in particular.

Now, the opponent, he's 38 years old. He's, in my opinion, a career politician. 11 years of his 38 years has been spent in the state legislature. And so, he's got a salary of about $30,000 in that. The [ag commissioner] salary is about three times that. And the pension and all that would go along with his. Not only that, he wants to run for a future office. He doesn't want to be commissioner of agriculture and that's all he wants to do. No, he wants to run, you know, four years from now he'll probably be driving around in a state car and running for some other office. I'm not. Four years from now, if people like me, I'll run again for this office, but I'm not running for another office. I'm not trying to boost my political career or become governor or senator, congressman or whatever. And that to me is a very stark contrast between the two candidates.

Not to mention his Tea Party voting record, which is extreme. We got that posted on our website for your info, if you want to take a look at it.

 

14. Is there anything else you would like voters to know about you?

BF: No, other than. Point people to the website if they want to know more about me. I'm a family man, had one wife for 40 years, two children. Just pretty routine, common-sense kind of guy. I just want to use some common sense, that's all, put it to work for Kentukians.

And that's it.

There is one other thing. I'm the national spokesman for the Farmers Almanac. Did you know that? To me that's a huge honor, and it says a lot, that you do know something about farming or they wouldn't ask you to be the spokesman for the almanac. So I was there today [Marion County], and passed out a few almanacs. People seem to really like those things.