Northeastern Kentucky farmers used to depend heavily on burley tobacco. In 2002, no other crop except hay even registered on the annual state agricultural statistics survey in Carter County.
Since the burley quota and price support program ended in 2005, annual tobacco production in Carter County is less than 1 million pounds where it once topped 3 million. Carter County farmers now produce only 30 percent of the amount of tobacco they did in the days of tobacco quotas, county Extension Agent Myron Evans said.
Diversification grants from master tobacco settlement funds are helping Carter County farmers cope with this reduction. “Beef and forage production has greatly improved and increased, (making up for) lost tobacco income,” Evans told the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board in his 2007 Carter County impact statement.
Evans said more than 160 Carter County farmers received almost $300,000 during 2006 for fencing, forage improvements, cattle handling equipment, livestock/genetics purchasing, and hay shed construction.
One of the most imaginative plans for Carter County is the effort to develop local agritourism.
A 2003 study by the Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute identified a need to improve the support structure for entrepreneurs in 19 northeastern Kentucky counties. From that study, the Eastern Kentucky Foothills Eco-Agritourism Corporation (EKFEAC) was formed, and in 2006 the Ag Development Board approved a $50,000 grant to the corporation.
That seed funding is enabling Carter County to apply for full-time marketing assistance, said Gwenda Adkins, Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences in Elliott County, which also is involved with the multi-county effort.
Adkins said the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation (Reynolds as in the Reynolds tobacco family) recently awarded EKFEAC a $100,000 grant to arrange that assistance through the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
Their proposal will include creation of an agritourism Web site, a marketing DVD, and a printed brochure promoting agritourism destinations in Carter, Elliott, Greenup, Menifee, Morgan and Wolfe counties, Adkins said.
Ronnie Purnell of Olive Hill credits grant funding with improving his beef cattle in both numbers and quality.
He used agricultural development funds to improve his cattle operation. “We were able to put in water systems we didn’t have when the cattle were drinking from creeks, and we fenced our ponds,” Purnell said.
The 70 head of beef cattle, bulls, and stocker cattle Purnell acquired also met Expected Progeny Difference requirements — standards of predicting what a bull’s calves will weigh at birth, at weaning, and as a yearling.
The grants also helped improve his facilities for his vaccination, worming and fly control measures, further protecting his cattle’s value, Purnell said.
Purnell raised tobacco for 25 years. After receiving the grant funding and upgrading his cattle operation, he got out of tobacco production.
Carter County’s Ag Advancement Council meets monthly to review projects and form future county priorities. New plans are beginning to out-strip available resources. “This past year we didn’t have enough money to approve all our applications, for the first time since 2004,” Evans said. The county board is currently reviewing applications filed late in 2008.
The Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund was created by the Kentucky General Assembly in the 2000 session to invest half of Kentucky’s share of master tobacco settlement funds in agricultural development projects. The state had invested $279 million by the end of 2008.
The Agricultural Development Board, which oversees the fund, is led by Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer and Gov. Steve Beshear.