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New Crop Opportunities, Phase X
D. Ingram, D. Van Sanford, C. Dillon
Department of Horticulture
Agricultural production is an important part of Kentucky's economy, and tobacco has played a major role. Many of Kentucky's family farms have been highly dependent upon tobacco as a primary source of income. But the number of farms growing tobacco in Kentucky declined 72% from nearly 30,000 in 2002 to 8,112 in 2007. The market value of tobacco sold in Kentucky in 2008 was $382 million, down from $674 million in 2000. Many of Kentucky's farms are small, averaging 164 acres, compared to the U.S. average of 418 acres. There were 85,300 farms in the state in 2008. According to the 2007 census, 67 percent of all Kentucky farms sold less than $10,000 worth of agricultural products.
Interest in alternative crops, including horticultural enterprises, has risen dramatically. This interest continues to increase because of the tobacco quota buyout. Horticultural crops offer Kentucky growers potential alternatives. A number of farms have successfully initiated commercial vegetable enterprises. Other farms are seeing the potential success of horticultural crops, but many lack the technical knowledge and management skills for immediate success with these production/marketing systems.
Kentucky's grain producers are searching for ways to improve the market value of the crops they grow. Examples of potential specialty grain types include edamame (green vegetable soybean) and soft white winter wheat. An emphasis on bioenergy has increased the need for research on a variety of crops that have potential for energy production, including hulless barley, sweet sorghum, and biomass crops such as switchgrass.
Growth in the organic food industry has led to a need for research on organic production of both horticultural and grains crops. This project is designed to develop and deliver Kentucky farmers the knowledge they need to assess new crop opportunities.
Eleven horticulture and specialty grains projects will be conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky as part of this overall New Crop Opportunities, KY, project. The New Crop Opportunities Center will feature a Web site for 24-hour access to information on new crops for Kentucky, including the horticultural and specialty grains crops that are the focus of the Center's research. Center staff will answer questions from Extension agents and farmers, and will distribute new crop information at field days and conferences. The Center will facilitate the packaging of information from its research and other sources for dissemination.
The expected outcomes/impacts of this project will be an increase in knowledge among Kentucky farmers and county extension agents about production and marketing systems for a variety of new crops. This increase in knowledge should allow farmers to make informed decisions about which new crops to try, and how to market those crops, based on information available on the Center's research projects, as well as through its crop and marketing profiles. Anticipated benefits include greater profitability for Kentucky's farmers as they successfully transition to a variety of crops that are new to them.