McKee shares promising news for farmers

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By Tom McKee


A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly

with State Representative Tom McKee


FRANKFORT – Earlier this month, Kentucky’s farmers got a welcome dose of good news when we learned 2008 would be another record year for the money paid for our crops and livestock.

Total receipts are expected to approach $4.7 billion, which is seven percent higher than last year’s total and a third more than what farmers got for their efforts in 2001.  Unfortunately, this fall and early winter have seen a downturn in farm prices.  I’m hoping to see a stronger market in 2009, but we are unlikely to see grain prices reach 2008 levels.  I am also hoping to see a quick rebound in livestock prices.

There are a lot of reasons for farming’s success this decade, but one of those at the top of the list has to be the tens of millions of dollars the farming community has received from the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco companies.  That settlement, in which the companies agreed to pay more than $200 billion over 25 years to avoid legal action by the states, celebrated its 10th anniversary last month.  In 2000, the General Assembly formally set aside half of Kentucky’s portion for agriculture and the other half for our youngest and sickest citizens.

That has proven to be a winning formula for everyone involved.  As a farmer, and as the chairman of the House’s Agriculture and Small Business Committee, I have been very pleased by the way our agricultural community has invested its money for the long haul.

This fall, the University of Kentucky issued a report confirming the many gains we have made because of the settlement.  As many of you may know, the decision was made to focus on several broad areas: large projects like the Kentucky Beef Network and an ethanol plant in Hopkinsville; model cost-sharing programs that help farmers with such things as fencing, hay and livestock; and loan programs so farmers have more access to money they may need to fortify their business.

The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, which the General Assembly created to oversee tobacco settlement spending, has approved $279 million since 2001 for almost 3,400 proposals.

More than five dozen projects received at least $100,000 between 2001 and 2006, the UK study found, and more than 72,000 farmers have received almost $100 million under the cost-sharing programs.

Just last month, the board approved $5 million for the loan program farmers can use, $1 million for an agricultural leadership program and $3.3 million for the highly successful “Kentucky Proud” state-branding program, which has done a wonderful job of promoting those products raised and made in the Commonwealth.

In other farming news, I had the honor last week of representing the Kentucky House of Representatives at the Council for Burley Tobacco meeting, where I spoke on what agricultural issues I think will be addressed during the 2009 Regular Session.  Others who spoke included officials from the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy; Kentucky Farm Bureau; Virginia Farm Bureau; and the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-op.

One of the more interesting items of discussion centered on the H2A program, which is a partnership between our country and Mexico that brings seasonal workers legally to the states to help farmers.  Officials believe that 2009 levels will be less than this year’s.

Burley farmers may also be interested in knowing that the Burley Market Association believes that there will be slightly more of the crop sold at auction this season when compared to last season.

During my time in front of the Council for Burley Tobacco, I explained that the biggest issue facing us during the upcoming legislative session is the large deficit the state has to make up by the end of June.  Unfortunately, there is not much time to address what was an already tight budget to begin with.

All of us can agree that we hope every segment of the economy will improve in the year ahead, and that we will see new jobs and opportunities.

For now, though, our thoughts turn to the holiday season.  I hope all of you have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

If you would like to contact me about any issue involving the General Assembly or state government, I am easy to reach.  You can write to me at Room 332B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.