Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Quarles shared his thoughts on the growth of Kentucky agricultural products, inflation, and the popularity of Kentucky agriculture overseas.
Quarles traveled to Pikeville on September 12 to speak at a luncheon for the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce at Garfield House.
Quarles said he grew up on a tobacco farm in Scott County.
“My mother was a public school teacher and taught nursing for thirty years and my father worked on a farm,” Quarles said. “I’m very lucky that my very first school was on the farm and I learned the value of the dollar. My mother and father gave me the option of working in tobacco or going to university. I chose the latter. My dad gave me the opportunity to work for $1 an hour and I saved up for college.
The past two years have been tough for everyone, Quarles said. The first industry affected is agriculture.
“When it comes to COVID, there are two groups of people in my book that deserve the most recognition,” Quarles said. “These people are our healthcare heroes and our Kentucky farmers. When other industries were shut down, the Kentucky farmer rose to the challenge and fed the Commonwealth and the nation, and the American farmer feeds millions around the world every day.
Quarles said there are a few silver linings during COVID.
“Because restaurants were closed, consumers had to relearn how to cook, myself included,” Quarles said. “We encourage people to buy local, shop at your local farmer’s market. Buy Kentucky Proud. The brand is stronger than ever and we encourage people to make dietary changes that support local agriculture. And we created Appalachia Proud, a brand under Kentucky Proud with its own logo.
Pike County has a large local farmers market, Quarles said.
“There are 100 active farms in Pike County,” Quarles said. “(There are) 19,400 acres of farmland, grossing over $1 million annually in Pike County. Statewide, there are 76,000 farms, which is a lot in our state, and we grow 400 different types of crops because we have farmers who are ready to innovate.
Quarles said Kentucky’s biggest agricultural product is chicken.
“We don’t just raise chickens in Kentucky, we also do genetic research here,” Quarles said. “Half of all the chicken consumed in the world is genetically traced back to Kentucky and we have chicken coops with armed guards next to them because of the genetic value.”
In eastern Kentucky, food is such a cultural symbol, Quarles said.
“We add value to agriculture and people want to buy the culture behind the food,” Quarles said. “Food is a cultural force in Eastern Kentucky. When we sell our food at the farmer’s market, it’s food that tells a story. So many recipes handed down from generation to generation. In Kentucky, we don’t just grow apples, we make apple pies.
People eat food every day from chain restaurants that are part of Kentucky agriculture and don’t even know it, Quarles said.
“If you’ve ever eaten a McDonald’s cookie on the East Coast, or sausages from Cracker Barrel and Dairy Queen, this is Kentucky’s farm supply,” Quarles said. “The largest peanut processing plant in the world is in Lexington, but we don’t grow peanuts and we have an ethanol plant in Hopkinsville, so we fuel the company with corn grown in the Kentucky.”
Quarles acknowledged that the country had inflation problems.
“You can’t spend your way out of inflation,” Quarles said. “The price of food has increased so much that the number of Kentuckians going to the food bank has also increased. One in seven Kentucky residents is food insecure, and one in five Kentucky schoolchildren in kindergarten through 12th grade is also food insecure. Diesel fuel costs $5 a gallon and that hurts the farmer in Kentucky too.
Quarles said he is entering his final year as agriculture commissioner, but wants to secure the Kentucky farmer’s path.
“There are conversations about solar and broadband internet in Kentucky,” Quarles said. “I am starting my last session as agricultural commissioner. We make sure to invest our tobacco settlement funds. The Department of Agriculture helps oversee a $100 million bank. We are seeking to change our tax code in Kentucky and we want to protect our agriculture and our farmers.
Quarles said that for a child who grew up in a tobacco patch in Scott County, he is blessed to have received an education he hoped for and is proud to live in the United States of America.
“I am blessed to have served as your agriculture commissioner and intend to run for governor,” Quarles said. “We live in a polarized time, just turn on the television. But, as we travel the world and return home, I am so happy to live in the United States of America. Most people never have the opportunity to choose their leadership. Also, I am not criticizing our country; I am not part of it because I have seen other parts of the world. I am proud to live in a country where we can be a beacon of freedom. We are that shining city on a hill.