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Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer was at Clements Ag Supply in Washington County last Tuesday for a stop along his tour across much of the state speaking with farmers about the latest news in his office.
With so much controversy circling Comer’s predecessor, he said keeping Kentucky farmers in the loop about what’s going on is one of his main goals.
“I’ve been in office 14 months and let me say how much I appreciate Washington County for the support in that election in 2011,” he said. “If you’ve read the paper, we’ve made a few changes over there and we’re trying to be transparent.”
The largest of those changes, according to Comer, has been an influx of personnel moves. The moves have primarily been to bring more people with a farm background into his office.
“We’ve had the opportunity to bring in a lot of new people in the department and we’re bringing in a lot of people with ag degrees, people that grew up on a farm, people that have that work ethic and understand agriculture,” Comer said. “You say that’s common sense in the department of ag, but there’s really been a shortage of those people.”
Comer also expressed the importance of his office’s duties and shared that they have more responsibilities than some may think, because when it comes to the department of agriculture, it doesn’t just end with agriculture.
“A lot of people know that we have Kentucky Proud and do the shows and fairs and things like that,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that we also have the office of the state veterinarian and we also do regulations and inspections. We regulate a lot of things in agriculture, but also outside of agriculture, from fuel pumps to amusement rides to the eggs in the grocery store. We have a big regulatory responsibility that a lot of people don’t realize.”
Comer used his time speaking with local farmers and other community members about the future of Kentucky, which he said has even more room to grow agriculturally as we look ahead, particularly thanks to a recent movement in nearby urban areas.
“In Louisville and Lexington there’s a big ‘buy local’ movement,” he said. “They’ve just now figured out that a lot of their food doesn’t come from the farmer down the road, it comes from California, Florida, Mexico, Brazil, and people are asking why we don’t purchase our food in the United States. It’s an opportunity and I think in the next few years you’re going to see a lot more food processors in the state.”
More food processors means more food staying in the local market, which means better business for local farmers. Comer said many farmers have already picked up extra business from restaurants and markets in metropolitan areas and that the trend should continue.
Comer also spoke about where agriculture in the state stands as the summer approaches and shared some surprising notes about the previous year.
“We’re off to a good start this year. Hopefully we’ll have better weather this year than we did last year. All the commodity prices look strong and the fundamentals look good. You never know what kind of weather season we’re going to have, so you can’t predict the prices, but so far things look good,” Comer said. “Despite the bad year (of weather) last year, we had one of the best years we’ve had in agriculture.”
After speaking, Comer took questions from community members for a few minutes before being led on a tour of the facility by owner Pat Clements.