April 25, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman
LEXINGTON, KY.

Kentucky's horticulture industry has developed a plan for growth with the University of Kentucky playing a key role in making that happen.

The Kentucky Horticulture Council received a $2.4 million two-year grant earlier this year from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board which disperses tobacco settlement money. The board is responsible for allocating these funds to help diversify Kentucky's farm economy which has relied on tobacco.

The council is working with UK and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The state agriculture department received $756,371 for marketing and promotion initiatives with UK's Horticulture department receiving $1,736,899 million for education, on-farm demonstrations and consultation and research.

"It is very important in terms of research on new varieties and setting up on-farm demonstrations to teach proper ways to produce these crops," said C.A. "Ottie" Pantle Jr., a Daviess County producer and chairman of the Horticulture Council. "Of course, we also need the marketing and promotion.

"This is an opportunity for the industry and we need it," Pantle said. "We had fallen behind with research over the years and had lost funding."

The Horticulture Council has been working for a number of years to show the industry's potential and the impact of increased state funding on its continued growth, noted Dewayne Ingram, chairman of the UK Horticulture department. When the tobacco money became available, the legislature directed the council to the board.

UK has hired additional staff to increase on-farm assistance and educational programs through the Cooperative Extension Service. Six extension associates will work with county agents in consultation with UK specialists, cooperatives and growers across the state. Three of the associates will work in areas serving the Central Kentucky Growers Association, Green River Produce Marketing Cooperative and West Kentucky Growers Cooperative. Their work will encompass all horticulture producers in these areas, not just those working with the cooperatives.

Two of the associates are located at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton, with one focusing on vegetables and fruits in western Kentucky including a produce auction and the other associate focusing on nursery crops. The sixth associate will concentrate primarily on small fruits in central Kentucky.

The second focus of UK's work will be to expand variety trials and production system research at UK's research farms in Lexington, Princeton and Quicksand, Ingram said.

"Horticulture is growing in the state," Ingram said. "What we are trying to do is increase the probability of success for new growers and to help those already in the business to expand to meet market demands."

Kentucky's horticulture industry has lacked infrastructure to support expansion and this initiative is a very good first step in building that infrastructure, he said.

"We can make significant progress with this investment," Ingram said.

But, he noted, this is only the beginning. Continued funding of this initiative and even some expansion will be necessary to ensure the industry's successful expansion in Kentucky.

In approving the horticulture council's plan, John-Mark Hack, chief executive officer of the board, said in a news release that the industry represents one solution to the income crisis faced by many farmers.

"It's not a silver bullet for all farmers, but there's opportunity in the horticulture sector for those with the commitment to succeed," he said.

Contact: 

Dewayne Ingram, (859) 257-1758