A Real Farm Team
by Haven Miller
There's talk, and then there's action. Both are necessary ingredients for addressing the serious issues now confronting Kentucky 's farmers and farm families.
A group of agricultural producers, county Cooperative Extension agents, and representatives of the UK College of Agriculture and Kentucky State University are talking, sharing concerns, and formulating a plan for helping solve problems in the state's agriculture industry. The group is called the Ag Advancement Council, Inc., and its ultimate purpose is to get results.
“We have three objectives—communicating producer concerns to the University, having the University communicate its ideas back to us, and helping agriculture go forward,” said Larry Jeffries, Henry County farmer and Council president.
The Council started four years ago with a series of regional meetings. One of its early missions was improving agricultural marketing. Since then the scope has widened, with marketing now one of several vital farm issues being addressed.
“We have 14 areas represented, with Kentucky State University making the 15th area,” said Curtis Absher, UK assistant Extension director for agriculture and the Council adviser. “We're asking producers to tell us what they think are the major issues, then we're working with them to help us respond to their concerns as a College, both research and Extension, and as a Council.”
Karen Armstrong-Cummings, director of the Commodity Grower's Cooperative Association, has acted as a facilitator for meeting topics and discussion. She believes communication has become a key component to the Council's success.
“It's often a lonely experience for farmers to face problems by themselves,” said Armstrong-Cummings. “There's a spirit here of working together, and the combination is greater than the individual numbers — that is, there's a benefit in this kind of collaboration that exceeds the individual hours that a lot of the Council members put into it.”
The Council recently narrowed its attention to four general areas: economic development, crop production, livestock production, and public policy issues. Specific topics of concern include tobacco issues, farm prices, local markets and slaughter facilities, marketing, farm labor, alternative crops, management & training, estate planning, rural health, and the family farm.
“There are a lot of problems facing the industry right now,” said Jeffries. “Tobacco, of course, is one, but there are other problems as well. It's a critical time right now, and if we cannot get together and discuss and get some kind of consensus then we'll be hurting.”
“What's going on nationally and internationally with globalization of agriculture and the integration of the industry makes it incredibly challenging for family farmers in our state,” said Armstrong-Cummings. “For UK to step up to the plate and say ‘yes, we want to work in partnership with you to accomplish this goal' is wonderful, and really needed.”
The Agricultural Research, Extension and Education Reform Act of 1998 requires that all land-grant institutions show that they “have established and implemented a process for obtaining input from persons who conduct or use agricultural research, Extension or education.”
“What we had in place here in Kentucky is now mandated by law...and our system may be used as an example for the rest of the country,” said Walter Walla, associate director of the Cooperative Extension Service.