Call to Order and Roll Call
The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture was held on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at<MeetTime> 10:00 AM, at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Senator Paul Hornback, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Paul Hornback, Co-Chair; Representative Tom McKee, Co-Chair; Senators C.B. Embry Jr., Stan Humphries, Dennis Parrett, Damon Thayer, Robin L. Webb, Stephen West, and Whitney Westerfield; Representatives Denver Butler, Mike Denham, Myron Dossett, Kelly Flood, Derrick Graham, David Hale, James Kay, Kim King, Martha Jane King, Michael Meredith, Suzanne Miles, Terry Mills, Sannie Overly, Tom Riner, Bart Rowland, Dean Schamore, Rita Smart, Wilson Stone, Chuck Tackett, Jeff Taylor, James Tipton and Tommy Turner.
Guests: Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, Ryan Quarles; Dr. Robert Stout, State Veterinarian; John Cook, Executive Director, Office of Consumer and Environmental Protection and Kathy Fowler, Department for Public Health, and Melanie Blandford, Executive Director, Office of Marketing and Product Promotion.
The June 8, 2016 minutes were approved by voice vote upon motion made by Representative Hale and second by Representative Mills.
Chairman Hornback stated that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture touches more lives than any other agency in making sure that consumers are protected.
Commissioner Ryan Quarles welcomed the committee members to tour the facilities. He stated that he has been on the job for about six months, and he has been very busy dealing with issues such as the destruction of the Bluegrass Stockyards. Staff has been busy attending livestock and commodity seminars throughout the state. The 2016 legislative session was good for agriculture. Bills were passed that had a meaningful impact on agriculture. One bill established the Water Resource Board, which will be meeting in the near future. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) will continue to do more with less in light of budget cuts.
Update on the Office of the State Veterinarian
Dr. Robert Stout, State Veterinarian, said that the Office of the State Veterinarian helps to protect the health and welfare of Kentucky’s animal agricultural industries and promote a regulatory environment that enhances economic and recreational opportunity and prosperity of Kentucky agriculture. There are two divisions: the Division of Animal Health and the Division of Producer Services. There are 37 employees, 25 of whom are primarily in the field and 12 of whom are in the office. At one time, the office had over 50 employees but, due to budget cuts, the office is doing more with fewer people. There are three veterinarians and four investigators who are certified police officers. Monitoring animal movement and health requirements is an example of the many functions of the office, which also monitors the State Fair, North American International Livestock Shows, Kentucky Beef Expo, and the many county fairs. The office monitors disease status nationally and internationally so the department can be ready to respond to outbreaks as they occur. In addition, the department responds to animal welfare complaints. In 2013, there were 180 complaints. In the 2016 fiscal year, there were 84 complaints, 56 of which were welfare cases that included 33 equine complaints. The Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Council is recommending revisions to some of the animal welfare statutes in KRS Chapter 525.
Representative McKee stated that he attended the meeting of the Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Council, and there may be some minor adjustments recommended to KRS Chapter 525 during the 2017 legislative session.
Update on the Office of Consumer and Environmental Protection
John Cook, Executive Director, explained that the Office of Consumer and Environmental Protection has 97 employees and three divisions: Division of Food Distribution, Division of Regulation and Inspection, and Division of Environmental Services. The department has combined services with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify credit card skimmers at gas pumps. Over $3 billion has been lost globally due to skimmers. Since January, Mr. Cook said that over 22,000 gas pumps, 7,500 small retail scales and 2,000 amusement rides across the state have been inspected. KDA approved over 80,000 packages, scanned over 90,000 items for price accuracy, visited 100 grain dealers, and hand-counted over 250,000 eggs, resulting in the approval of 1.2 million eggs statewide.
Mr. Cook said that the Division of Food Distribution oversees the ordering of 180 food items for 194 school districts. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided over 4 million meals last year. Kentucky students were supplemented with USDA foods valued at approximately $30 million. The Farm to School Program helps farmers in school districts to connect and bring local fruit and vegetables into the school systems. In 2015, this program reached 421,420 students across Kentucky, which is a 548 percent increase from the previous year. The Junior Chef Program, which is a Sweet Sixteen competition, with the cooperation of Sullivan University, has donated approximately $210,000 in scholarships. The Senior Farmers Market nutrition program grant covers 77 counties and involves 785 producers, which helps seniors purchase fruits and vegetables. The Commodity Supplemental Program, through five food banks, feeds 25,614 individuals monthly. With USDA food valued at almost $5.4 million, KDA monitors and administers the program to benefit Kentuckians who fall below the poverty level. The Division of Food Distribution monitors over $30 million in USDA foods touching every county in Kentucky.
Through pesticides regulations, the Division of Environmental Services regulates all pesticides applicators including lawn care companies, crop protection, pest control and water treatment companies. The division licenses 3,500 application companies, 10,000 individuals, 14,000 private applicators, conducts 3,000 inspections per year, registers 15,000 pesticides products and administers 4,500 certificate exams per year. Mr. Cook said that, through the Public Pest and Recycling Assistance Branch, there are 197 participants for 2016. The Rinse and Return Recycling Program collects 70,000 pounds of empty containers annually. The Unwanted Agriculture Chemical Program collects 32,000 pounds annually.
Mr. Cook explained that there are mosquito control programs, and KDA has responded to 1,297 complaints this year. On average, over 100,000 acres have been sprayed. Since the Zika outbreak, KDA has worked closely with the Department for Public Health. Mr. Cook introduced Kathy Fowler, Department for Public Health, who said the Zika virus is now an epidemic in portions of South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands. The efforts of the Department for Public Health and the KDA are to make sure that Zika does not get into the population of mosquitoes in Kentucky. The complications from Zika, for many, are relatively mild but that, when complications happen to a pregnant woman, the results can be devastating. About 149 individuals have been tested for Zika through state public health laboratories. Other individuals are being tested at private laboratories. So far, there have been nine cases of positive Zika, acquired through travel. KDA and Department for Public Health partnered to train 45 environmental health specialists at local health departments to enhance the capabilities of being able to respond if necessary. The agencies have developed a response plan that allows KDA to spray around an infected person’s home. The Department for Public Health and KDA have worked toward getting the information to the media.
Commissioner Quarles explained that the best way to get rid of mosquitoes is to remove standing water. Spraying helps, but everyone needs to be aware of what they can do to help prevent the Zika virus from spreading.
In response to questions from Representative Flood, Ms. Fowler said that drawing attention to Zika through whatever means would be good. The Department for Public Health will have a booth at the State Fair to answer questions. The message is “fight the bite” and to dress, drain, and defend against the virus. Ms. Fowler said there are pellets that can be used around flower pots, but they are expensive. Representative Flood suggested that a “fight the bite” day would help get the information out.
In response to Representative Martha Jane King, Ms. Fowler said that Kentucky was able to redirect some of the Ebola funding that had already been provided. There are some grants that could help with additional funding. She is not aware of Congress redirecting any Ebola funds to be used towards fighting the Zika virus.
Representative Denham commented that banks are seeing a large increase in the use of skimmers. Consumers are experiencing tremendous losses. He encouraged everyone to check their bank accounts for any suspicious activity either daily or at least once a month. Commissioner Quarles stated that KDA is going after criminals who use skimmers. Skimmers make it possible to steal up to 500 credits cards in a matter of hours by skimming. KDA inspects over 60,000 gas pumps at least once a year. When skimmers are found, KDA contacts law enforcement for further action.
In response to Representative Riner, Ms. Fowler said that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a list of approved products that can be used on the skin.
Update of Kentucky Proud and Marketing Programs
Melanie Blandford, Executive Director, Office of Marketing and Product Promotion, said that there are six divisions within the Office of Marketing and Production Promotion with approximately 50 employees. The Division of Agriculture Education, Farm Safety and Farmland Preservation had some equipment outside that members could see. She directed members to tour the three Kentucky Mobile Science Centers. Each center would hold up to 30 students for six different classes per day. The goal of the farm safety program is to reach farmers and teach them about accident prevention. The office encompasses the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE). The Fair and Show Promotion Division sponsors over 100 district, state and national livestock shows. The KDA provides premiums and awards for the shows totaling over $1 million annually. Ms. Blandford stated that the Value-Added Plant Division is one of the most extensive divisions. Over 4,500 acres were approved for industrial hemp to be grown. Sixty counties are participating in the industrial hemp research project, which included 181 participants, or 137 approved growers and 44 approved processors. Kentucky has imported 60,000 pounds of industrial hemp seed from nine different countries and that over 36 different varieties will be tested. Organic program has 186 operations that are either certified organic or seeking certification. The grape and wine industry represents $165 million in economic impact. There are 65 wineries operating in the state. The Grape and Wine Council is focused on increasing vineyards. The Farmers Market Program is continuing to grow. There are 160 registered farmers markets through the KDA. Ms. Blandford stated that 2,500 vendors participate and the estimated amount of sales is approximately $12 million. There are 188 vendors who can accept SNAP. KDA offers forage testing that helps with balancing rations. For farmers to reach new markets in Kentucky, KDA helps with providing assistance for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) third-party audit. KDA works with the specialty block-grant program which utilizes federal dollars to support local projects. The department monitors the legal sale and harvest of ginseng. Another division is the Value-Added Animal and Aquaculture Production. There are field market reporters who provide information for the Kentucky Livestock Grain Market Report. The division works with other entities regarding the dairy, beef, swine, sheep, and goat programs. The Agri-business Recruitment Division runs the Kentucky Proud program. KDA is working to improve the relationship with the Cabinet for Economic Development and export markets. Kentucky is known around the world for the Kentucky Proud brand. There are 5,700 members in the Kentucky Proud program, 129 members of the Homegrown by Heroes program, and 1,200 members in the Appalachia Proud program. There are 450 agritourism venues across the state.
In response to Representative Smart, Commissioner Quarles stated that there is a review underway for the Kentucky Proud Program. Commissioner Quarles said that the department is interested in the return rate per dollar that is budgeted by the General Assembly and is evaluating ways to make Kentucky Proud more sustainable.
Representative Smart said the Special Committee on Tourism met recently and discussed marketing along with using existing buildings in communities for economic development.
In response to Representative Taylor, Commissioner Quarles said the craft beer industry has grown 600 percent in the past five years. The department is in the process of studying the viability of hops production along with malted barley to meet the growing demand throughout the country. The department was able to get a $50,000 specialty crop block grant to help with research at the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University.
New Initiatives and Program Updates
Commissioner Quarles stated that the department is holding Regional Hunger meetings to address the issues of hunger in Kentucky. He reminded members that the Kentucky State Fair starts on August 18 and will be a great opportunity to see premier agricultural events. The department is much more than food and agriculture. Agriculture inspectors are important to many of the department’s programs, but the starting pay is only $21,087. There are several other employees who earn around $25,000 per year. These employees qualify for federal assistance. The department also has an aging fleet of vehicles that need to be replaced. Other states envy the way Kentucky has protected the tobacco settlement money so that the money can be used to help farmers replace the income of tobacco. It was recently announced that funding for the Grain Center for Excellence had been approved.
Representative Graham complimented the commissioner and the members for coming together to fight hunger in Kentucky.
Senator Hornback stated that Shelby County’s local food bank is hosting an event to feed over 500 people. There is a need for fighting hunger all over the state.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.