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Earlier this summer, Kentucky’s farming community got a jolt when the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that no state had lost a greater percentage of farmland from 2007-12.
Our 6.7 percent decline totaled almost a million acres, which is larger than Land Between the Lakes and the Daniel Boone National Forest combined. The number of farms dropped from 85,260 to 77,064.
Agricultural officials note that these figures tend to fluctuate during each five-year census of America’s farmland. A separate study showed Kentucky’s rural land base declined relatively little during that time because of development. In other words, much of the “lost” farmland likely looks no different than it did in 2007.
While this is a trend that should be monitored, it is crucial to note that our farmers continue to prove the adage that less really is more. Fewer farms have not meant fewer sales.
Last year, farmers set state records in corn and soybean production, and tobacco production reached totals not regularly seen since the quota system was in place. The wheat harvest was the biggest since 1982.
There are positive signs that this year could be even better, because our farmers planted tens of thousands of additional acres of corn and soybeans. News reports indicate three-fourths of these crops are in excellent or good shape as we look toward the fall.
High yields aren’t the only thing favoring farmers. Kentucky ranks among the top 20 states in nearly 10 agricultural categories, with horses at No. 1 and tobacco at No. 2. Also on the list is poultry, hogs, corn for grain, soybeans, hay and wheat. Kentucky also produces more cattle than any state east of the Mississippi River.
Also doing well: Our dairy farms generated 130 million gallons of milk in 2012; farmers planted 13,000 acres in fruit and vegetable crops last year; and the combined number of sheep and goats across the state is close to 140,000.
Overall, total commodity sales last year neared $6 billion, which is about $1 billion more than the year before. More broadly, Kentucky’s farms are the foundation for $46 billion in annual revenue, according to a study last year by the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The industry employs 90,000 workers directly and helps support 144,000 others whose jobs depend on the raw goods farming provides.
Farmers markets are one of the fastest-growing sectors in agribusiness. There are about 8,100 farmers markets nationwide, and about 150 of them are here in Kentucky. Aug. 3-9 is National Farmers Market Week, so if you haven’t visited one of our area markets, now is the ideal time to start.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. His address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 or (800) 896-0305.