Kentucky agriculture forecast to hit record $6 billion in sales for 2013

jpatton1@herald-leader.comDecember 5, 2013 

LOUISVILLE — Despite trying weather, Kentucky farmers are looking at a very green year, with a record $6 billion in cash receipts for 2013.

Only last year, farm sales topped $5 billion for the first time.

"It took a decade to break through $4 billion," said Will Snell, a University of Kentucky agricultural economist.

The UK ag experts presented their annual farm economy review and outlook at Kentucky Farm Bureau's 94th annual convention.

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this week that nationally, farm prices are expected to slide somewhat in 2014, Snell said Kentucky will buck that trend. The economists forecast as much as $6.2 billion for the state next year.

"Kentucky's farm outlook is outstanding," state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in a lunch speech to convention delegates.

Driving that growth, the economists said, was a big rebound in Kentucky's equine market. The state leads the nation in Thoroughbred breeding, which had topped $1 billion in sales for three years before the economic downturn.

This year will be the one Kentucky looks back on as turning the corner, livestock expert Kenny Burdine said. Sales at Keeneland's crucial September yearling sale were up 28 percent, and the November breeding stock sale was up a phenomenal 38 percent, Burdine said.

Horses, with $950 million in revenue, now account for 16 percent of annual farm cash receipts, up from 14 percent last year.

But Kentucky remains a "poultry state." Poultry, including eggs, accounts for 21 percent of all farm revenue: $1.25 billion.

Corn, which last year equalled poultry at 18 percent, or $954 million, softened considerably this year, to 13 percent, or about $786 million. This year's bumper crop drove down prices considerably.

It is unclear what effect the recent announcement on reducing ethanol production will have on the corn crop, Snell said. Demand remains high for exports and for animal feed. Lower corn prices will benefit Kentucky's cattle and other livestock.

The economic forecast for next year did not factor in the possibility of a new crop — hemp — in the new year.

Comer, who pushed for legislation to allow Kentucky farmers to grow hemp if the federal government allows it, told delegates Thursday that he hopes there will be a crop before his term ends in two years.

Comer said it is his understanding that Colorado has received notification that the federal government will allow hemp to be grown there; Kentucky has not received any response from the Justice Department yet.

As for the future of Kentucky's farm economy, Comer said: "I think we can get to $10 billion."

Also in attendance Thursday was Democratic U.S. Senate challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, who called on Congress to pass a federal Farm Bill. Grimes said a vote by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, against the Farm Bill was "shameful" and that Kentucky voters are "ready to put him out to pasture."

Late Thursday, there were reports of a framework for a compromise in Washington to finally pass a federal bill but no details were immediately available.

McConnell will speak to the Farm Bureau convention on Saturday.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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