March 21, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman

Gov. Ernie Fletcher has urged farm leaders to compile a strategic plan aimed at moving all Kentucky agriculture forward and to have that plan in place in time for the 2008 General Assembly.

Fletcher issued the challenge last week at the Governor’s Agricultural Summit attended by more than 400 farm leaders. The summit, at the Kentucky Exposition Center, was called to bring agricultural leaders together to begin the process of building on the successes of agriculture in the state, Fletcher said.

 “I challenge Kentucky agriculture to bring forward a plan that embraces the goals and objectives of the entire industry and creates a roadmap to guide our farm families to a brighter and more profitable tomorrow,” Fletcher said. “We are in the midst of a strong farm economy, and today I call on Kentucky agriculture to devise a strategic plan to secure a prosperous future for the entire industry. I pledge my support to help accomplish this goal.”

Agriculture leaders, including University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Dean Scott Smith, Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer and Kentucky Farm Bureau President Marshall Coyle, accepted the governor’s challenge on behalf of Kentucky agriculture. Smith said that agriculture needs to broaden its scope and vision and to take this opportunity to analyze the state’s assets as well as its challenges. In addition, he said it’s important to look at what is important to all fields of economic development and every part of the economy.

“I’m referring to work force development and education, areas like research and development and infrastructure and leadership,” he said.

Access to education for future generations needs to be evaluated, Smith said. Technology needs to be embraced, not only for high-tech initiatives such as biofuels and plant-made pharmaceuticals, but also for acquiring the best layout of a tobacco stripping room or evaluating practices and efficiencies on farms and in production systems. Additionally, research and development, both in the public and private sector, should be analyzed to see if they are sufficient and appropriate to opportunities available in Kentucky.

Infrastructure is not only roads and water and suppliers but also service providers such as UK’s Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center and the Breathitt Veterinary Center, whichplay an important role.

“From Murray to Frankfort to Lexington we will need to take a look at the needs over the next decade of analytical services, veterinary support and all the testing and regulatory functions that are necessary to make agriculture continue to succeed in the state of Kentucky,” Smith said. “Veterinary services are an important part, but in many areas of Kentucky there is a lack of large animal vets, and the state’s animal agriculture will not continue to grow unless this problem is addressed.”

During his comments, Fletcher also noted the importance of the two diagnostic centers in terms of their significance to homeland security and the integrity of the state’s livestock industry. He pledged to see that funding was made available for expansion of the Lexington facility and for design of a new Murray facility.

Smith encouraged agriculture leaders to reach out to the creative class, the entrepreneurs.

“All those people with new ideas and new thoughts who write about, think about and bring in new concepts to agriculture are an important part of our industry as much as they are high technology in Silicon Valley,” he said. “We should be including those people in our planning even if they think and do differently than we do, precisely because they might think and do differently than we do. We need new ideas and solutions.”

The task of compiling this strategic plan will be undertaken by the Agricultural Advisory Council. Tony Brannon, chair of the Murray State University School of Agriculture, heads the council. He said they will be hiring some expertise to help facilitate the process and will be reaching across the state for people to help in the process. The group will be working on a fast track, with their first meeting planned May 2.