FRANKFORT, Ky. — As the 2022 session of the General Assembly came to a close last week, Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles applauded a number of agriculture-related bills that were passed.
“Agriculture is the backbone of the American culture and with more than half of Kentucky’s land still in agricultural use, it’s obvious Kentucky’s economy is enriched by these practices,” Commissioner Quarles said. “Agriculture’s total economic impact on Kentucky’s economy stands at $46 billion a year. I applaud the legislators for passing a number of bills and resolutions that will help Kentucky and agriculture producers reach even higher levels.”
The main function of this year’s General Assembly was passing the state’s biennium budget. For the first time in more than 10 years the budget includes across-the-board pay raises for state employees. Commissioner Quarles praised the legislators for financially recognizing the hard work of state employees.
“The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has more than 200 employees deserving of the raise that was passed,” Commissioner Quarles said. “Though the raise may not equate to what they actually deserve, it is a step in the right direction.”
Quarles also applauded the legislators’ work on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s (KDA) budget. In total, KDA’s working budget is more than $86 million, including General Fund, restricted, and federal funds.
For the first time, KDA’s budget also reflects the money appropriated to the Kentucky Office of Agricultural Policy (KOAP). Last legislative session moved the office from the Governor’s Office to the KDA. KOAP is responsible for grants and loans for agricultural pursuits from funds provided by the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. This year’s legislative session put the money allocated to the Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund directly in KDA’s funds including more than $26 million for state funds and $14 million for county allocations.
Additional items of note in KDA’s budget include:
- A $500,000 appropriation for KDA’s Raising Hope campaign, a collaboration endeavor, which partners KDA with state universities and the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The program focuses on the mental and physical health of agricultural producers by increasing awareness of the mental health issues, normalizing the discussion of the topic, reducing the stigma of seeking help, and showing farmer appreciation.
- The Farm to Food Banks Program, which allows purchases of Kentucky-grown produce from participating Kentucky farmers, saw an increase from $500,000 to $600,000.
- The County Fair Grants, designated to support capital improvements at county fairgrounds across the commonwealth, increased from $300,000 to $455,000.
Though not part of KDA’s budget, Kentucky agriculture families and the agriculture communities in Western Kentucky may get assistance from HB5 and SB5, companion bills that provide around $200,000,000 in funds to the West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies for tornado disaster recovery and relief. The tornadoes from Dec. 10-11, 2021, and Jan. 1, 2022, devastated many rural agriculture-focused communities in the western portion of the state. The funds are being made available for recovery efforts across the spectrum of need.
Other agriculture-related bills passed this session include:
Agricultural investment opportunities
When agriculture wins, the entire state wins. In that vein, House Bill 390 enacts an important measure that calls attention to agricultural opportunities for the state.
- HB 390 directs the Cabinet for Economic Development to give notice to the Agriculture Commissioner when it receives information about an agricultural-related opportunity. The notice would allow KDA to participate in plans, discussions, and meetings to give the state full advantage in agriculture-related endeavors.
When Quarles was first elected Agriculture Commissioner, he began the task of modernizing KDA and the statutes that define its responsibilities. In the past six years he has continued this effort by revisiting dated agriculture-related statutes to evaluate if revisions are needed. Much of that modernization he set out to do equates to fine-tuning existing statutes to allow KDA to run more efficiently. A number of bills this session continues that work:
- HB 271 reorganizes the membership of the Fair Council and the Agritourism Advisory Council. The bill also clarifies the duties for the Office of State Veterinarian are to maintain the health of welfare of agricultural industries for livestock, poultry, and fish.
- HB 273 reflects changes to statutes governing amusement ride regulations. It also increases the amount of liability insurance the owners must maintain.
- HB 306 updates statutes defining KDA’s responsibilities with respect to pesticides and noxious weeds.
- HB 451 implements changes to some motor fuel statutes. The changes revise legal definitions for some types of motor fuel and what constitutes a retail facility.
Hunger and Food Insecurity
Since becoming agricultural commissioner in 2016, Quarles has made it his mission to reduce hunger in the rural and urban areas of Kentucky. The Hunger Initiative is a first-of-its-kind effort in Kentucky to bring together farmers, charitable organizations, faith groups, community leaders, and government entities to begin a dialogue to help reduce hunger in Kentucky.
Two bills and a resolution passed this session help further Commissioner Quarles’ initiative:
- SB 151, the “Barrier to Breakfast Bill,” clarifies current law regarding breakfast at school. The simple change leaves no ambiguity and permits school districts to serve breakfast to students during the first 15 minutes of instructional time.
- SB 42 allows school districts to increase their food purchasing from local farmers. Specifically, it exempts fresh produce and meat products from the state’s regular competitive negotiation requirements, thereby allowing school nutritionists to work with local producers in regard to providing more food items for use in the lunchroom meals.
- HCR 47 recognizes Madison County Schools for its leadership in embracing the farm-to-school concept. KDA’s Farm-to-School program brings fresh, high-quality Kentucky Proud products to Kentucky school systems. The General Assembly recognized Madison County for its use of this program in hopes other school systems will emulate what Madison County has been able to achieve.
Several other pieces of agriculture-related legislation also passed through the General Assembly this year.
- SB 121 streamlines the process for those who use agriculture exemption license numbers. The numbers are used for agriculture producers buying products in retail stores. It exempts the buyer from sales tax on certain agriculture-related items.
- HR 69 urges the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to update its administrative regulations pertaining to agricultural drones. Advances drone technology have allowed producers to use drones for a number of advantages on their farms, particularly those involved with applying herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to crops. However, dated regulations surround crop applications are geared toward airplane and helicopter uses. This resolution urges the FAA to update its application regulations to keep pace with today’s technology and asks the regulations be straightforward and sensible to better serve farmers.
— Kentucky Department of Agriculture