FRANKFORT — The 2016 session of the General Assembly has come to an end, and we are thankful that this session was successful for agriculture in Kentucky. We worked together in a bipartisan fashion to pass legislation that will assist farm communities, agribusinesses and consumers from all areas of the Commonwealth.
Over the past eight years, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has taken a cumulative cut of 34 percent to its overall operating budget. In that time frame, the department has launched numerous programs to help Kentucky farmers and consumers. This includes strengthening the Kentucky Proud brand and broadening the KDA’s role as a consumer protection agency.
Despite having our budget cut by approximately $3.4 million, we are committed to providing the services that all Kentuckians depend on. The KDA will continue to do our part in addressing the Commonwealth’s financial crisis that affects all Kentuckians, including our farm families.
Here is a brief rundown of bills that the legislature passed that affect Kentucky agriculture and the Department:
• House Bill 529 – Establishes the Kentucky Water Resources Board, which will conduct research and develop recommendations to enhance the quality of water resources accessible for agricultural production in the state. This bipartisan bill will ensure that farmers have sufficient water available in times of drought while alleviating pressure on residential and business water supplies. This legislation resulted from the work of Kentucky Farm Bureau’s Water Management Working Group.
• House Bill 38 – Directs the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to regulate zipline facilities in Kentucky as well as climbing walls and other attractions that fall under the category of “aerial recreation devices.” Ziplines have become wildly popular in Kentucky, and this bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support as a public safety measure.
• Senate Bill 182 – Changes the date by which a grain storage facility or grain dealer must renew their license to operate in Kentucky, and changes penalties for violations by businesses that store or handle grain. This bill will better protect Kentucky grain producers.
• Senate Bill 191 – Reorganizes the State Fair Board to include more representation from the agricultural community in Kentucky.
• House Resolution 56 – Encourages state government entities to buy Kentucky Proud products. Buying Kentucky Proud strengthens Kentucky’s agricultural economy. This resolution passed unanimously, and I thank my friends in the House for recognizing that state government needs to put our hard-working family farmers and agribusinesses first.
• House Bill 354 – Adds a representative of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to the Kentucky Emergency Response Commission. This commission is charged with developing policies for dealing with releases of hazardous substances, and it’s important for Kentucky’s agricultural community to have a seat at the table.
• House Bill 497- Sets state standards for the labeling, packaging, and sale of certified seed.
• Senate Bill 242 – Allows a retailer to offer information and suggestions, consistent with the product label, for over-the-counter products used in the treatment of animals. This bill also allows a nonresident of the United States to practice veterinary medicine in Kentucky under certain conditions, and allows the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners to establish regulations to renew retired or inactive veterinary licenses. These and other provisions of this bill will help Kentucky livestock producers care for their animals at a time when the livestock industry is suffering from a shortage of large- and food-animal veterinarians.
• Senate Bill 11 – Allows wineries, distilleries, and breweries to sell more products at their facilities. This will help local wineries and breweries attract more business and purchase additional local product from Kentucky farmers.
I’m grateful to members of the General Assembly from both parties for their attention to the needs of Kentucky’s farmers and agribusinesses. These pieces of legislation will help Kentucky agriculture become more competitive and place Kentucky farmers in a position to excel in the U.S. and around the globe.
Ryan Quarles is the commissioner of agriculture in Kentucky.