Op-Ed

Agribusiness solid investment for taxpayers

The commentary by Ralph A. Ruschell disparaged the significance of agribusiness in Fayette County and the use of public funds and grants to purchase development rights from Fayette County farm owners.

Here are a few facts about agribusiness in Fayette County:

■ In 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fayette County had farm sales of $504.1 million and was ranked the No. 1 agricultural county in Kentucky. Fayette (one of 120 counties in Kentucky) achieved 10.4 percent of all agricultural farm sales in the state.

■ Each year, Keeneland, Tattersall's and Fasig-Tipton sell horses valued at approximately $1 billion at live auction sales. Buyers, sellers, and horses from around the world travel to Lexington for these sales.

■ Agritourism attracts visitors to Central Kentucky's equine venues such as Keeneland, The Kentucky Horse Park, Thoroughbred horse farms and related equine events. Keeneland and the Horse Park combined to attract more than 1.5 million attendees annually.

In 2010, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games alone had approximately 500,000 people attend the event. Tourism creates a major financial boost to air and ground travel, hospitality, food service, local attractions and retail businesses.

■ Tourism in Fayette County generated a $1.66 billion impact in 2009 and supported more than 23,420 jobs with a payroll exceeding $530 million.

■ Lexington is the world's leader in equine research; veterinarian services; educational training; horse transportation; legal and accounting services; equine boarding, training and breeding facilities.

Lexington is also the headquarters for approximately 40 state, regional and national equine organizations.

■ The quality of the rich soils in Fayette County attracts investors from around the world to purchase horse farms and make significant enhancements to the facilities.

For two centuries, Fayette County has been globally recognized as one of the leading agricultural regions for the equine industry.

■ With the decline of burley tobacco sales, crop-diversification efforts have attracted vineyards and wineries, added alternative crops, and increased the production of cattle and livestock in Fayette County. Bluegrass Stockyards sells an estimated $160 million annually at its live animal auction venue in Fayette County.

■ Recognized as a unique city surrounded by an equally unique rural landscape, Lexington's relationship with its agricultural lands make it a desirable home for a highly educated workforce and their families.

■ The Purchase of Development Rights Program is totally voluntary and protects one of the most iconic and financially important components of Lexington's economy. Farm owners unilaterally offer to sell or donate the future development rights of their land to the program.

The goal is to acquire development rights equal to about 27 percent of all land in Fayette County. This leaves 73 percent of Fayette County for all other land uses.

As a council member, I believe PDR investments are in the best interest of our community for these reasons:

1. Lexington is the world's top equine center because of its leadership in almost every aspect of the horse industry.

2. The soils in Fayette County have nourished a high percentage of the world's championship horses. The soils cannot be replaced or duplicated.

3. General agriculture also benefits from the area's rich soils. Crop diversification has encouraged the expansion of cattle and livestock production, row crops, vineyards, wineries and locally grown produce.

4. The PDR investment is similar to, although different from, other public investments in the arts, hike and bike paths, streetscape improvements, public pavilions, parks, golf courses and sports facilities.

5. PDR is a voluntary program, and development rights donated or acquired in farmland are shown as real estate assets on Lexington's audited financial statements.

6. Lexington's iconic international image, high quality of life and exceptional economic future have a long-term relationship with agribusiness, the horse, and the unique and valuable soils of the Bluegrass.

Agribusiness and the horse industry continue to be very significant to Lexington's economic vitality and international brand. For Ruschell to make statements to the contrary is not an objective review of the facts.

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