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Richard Medley could tell you a thing or two about farms in Washington County, but he recently learned a lot about farming across Kentucky, and even on the other side of the world.
Medley, a graduate of Washington County High School and a veteran of the FFA program, now works for Ag Credit. He also operates his own farm where he raises cattle, as well as strawberries. Near the end of 2009, he was selected to be a part of the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program (KALP), and now that he has completed the program, he looks back at it as the experience of a lifetime.
The KALP is an 18-month program where participants are chosen through a long process, including completing an application and interviews. Medley said he was one of the 22 people selected from more than 100 applications for the program’s ninth class. Members meet for 10 different seminars, which typically last three days. The seminars are conducted at sites around the state, in addition to a four-day seminar in Washington, D.C. Upon completion of the program, the group takes a 14-day international trip, and Medley’s class went to New Zealand.
Although he knew a lot about agriculture going in, he said he still learned quite a bit about it. He said he also learned a lot about himself.
“Going in, I didn’t know anybody. I had met two of the people before, but didn’t know anybody. That forced me to open my shell and to have to make friends. It was a good experience because your not in your normal clique of people,” Medley said. “Before, I kinda didn’t mind to talk to people, but now, I could go into a crowd and get up and talk with no problem at all. That helped me, and developed a lot of self confidence.”
Growing up in Central Kentucky, Medley said he knew the agriculture of this area, but he had no idea what he was missing in the extreme eastern and western counties of the state.
“I consider myself to know a lot about Kentucky, but I saw things I hadn’t seen. We took a tour of a coal mine in Eastern Kentucky, and we got to see farming there,” he said. “In Western Kentucky, we went to Murray State University. I thought Bowling Green was Western Kentucky, but I found out it was still Central Kentucky. I got a greater appreciation for the agriculture Kentucky has to offer. I didn’t realize there were so many diverse farm operations down there.”
For all he learned about Kentucky farming, Medley learned even more about it internationally. His leadership class was allowed to vote on where they would like to go, and they had to discuss it as groups and consider the budget they had for the trip. The group selected New Zealand, and Medley is glad of that choice.
“They are very diverse, but not very large,” he said of agriculture in New Zealand. “The land area there is just a little bigger than the state of Kentucky. It’s broken into to islands, and the distance is about from here to Florida. Basically, it’s almost as diverse between us and Florida with the different temperatures.”
Medley’s trip started in Auckland, the largest city on New Zealand’s north island. He said the group stayed there for 10 days, and he was quickly impressed with how efficient the farmers were.
“Agriculture is king down there. Everybody appreciates the farmer,” he said. “It stuck out to me that nobody we talked to in 14 days had anything negative to say about farmers and farming. The economy thrives because of the injection agriculture has had. Here, if you drive down the road and see a really nice house, you’ll say it’s a doctor’s house or a lawyer’s house; there, it’s probably a dairy farmer’s house. It was amazing to see that, and how they appreciate the farmers and agriculture in general there.”
Medley said New Zealand is one of the world’s leading dairy nations, and provides nearly 40 percent of the world’s export market of dairy products. He said since the nation produces more than it can use, it exports much to the rest of the world.
“In my operation, besides strawberries, I have cattle. They are very intense in New Zealand in their grazing. It’s all about the grass,” he explained. “They are parallel to Kentucky with forage production. It’s a real efficient nation in growing and utilizing 100 percent of its forage. That’s something I brought back, was the idea to try to make better use of all of the forage like they do. They do a lot of different grazing, including beets. I had never heard of that before. It was amazing.”
The United States and New Zealand have cattle in common, but Medley pointed out that he was surprised by the amount of venison raised there. He said farms had herds of tame deer, raised and grazing, just like cattle are raised here.
Many farmers in Kentucky and the United States own the equipment they need for farming, but in New Zealand, farmers take a different approach, according to Medley.
“All of us here think we need five tractors, and we all have everything. They don’t believe in that. One person has all of the equipment, and they all hire him to do it for them. It’s cheaper, and it’s a neat spin on how we do things. It’s a whole new mentality,” he said.
New Zealand is a small nation in comparison to the United States, but the farms are not small. Medley said the smallest farm he visited while there was around 600 acres, and some farms are as large as 50,000 and up to 100,000 acres. New Zealand measures its land in hectares, a unit which is equal to 2.471 acres.
In addition to his farming business, Medley said he also focused on some business issues about farming.
“I was intrigued and asked a lot of ag lending questions,” he said. “The land values there are all in the $8,000 to $11,000 an acre range. Also, the family farm operation is really a family business. With nine out of 10 farms here, the spouse works off the farm. There, it’s a husband and wife deal. If they farm, the wife didn’t work off the farm, she works right there with him.”
Looking back on his trip and the KALP experience, Medley said he got a great deal from the program, and he someday wants to give back.
“It’s very good for the people who participate, and for their community. It’s good for people to have goals and want to be involved some day. By starting in the county level program and then being in the state leadership program, I kinda learned the ropes. I also did the beef cattleman’s program, and they were all good, but this one tops everything,” he said. “I want to give back to leadership some day and help others experience this. If they ask me, I’ll tell them this is an opportunity of a lifetime, and you can’t pass it up.”