The New Kentucky ‘Farmer’: Moving Forward with Technology

KET, Kentucky Educational Television, recently broadcast a fascinating forum hosted by Renee Shaw called “AgriTech in Kentucky” (May 23, 2022). ‘AgriTech’ is an abbreviated way to say ‘agricultural technology.’ This program noted that the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the heart of the U.S.A. has, by its geographical location on the banks of the Ohio River, the necessary resource of available water to sustain and expand agriculture.

But we are not talking about our grandfathers’ definition of farming which many times demanded farmland dependent on capricious rain and sun to produce a harvest. We are talking about an industry which is defined by the use of advanced technology to encourage young people to stay in or enter the farming business, knowing they can earn a good salary to support themselves and their families. These future farmers use their smart phones, computers, tablets, and other electronic devices in every aspect of their lives—and they expect to do the same in smart agriculture.

Moderator Shaw brought together Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Senior Adviser to the Governor Rocky Adkins, Chair of the University of Kentucky’s Department of Horticulture Dr. Mark Williams, and CEO Jonathan Webb of AppHarvest (an AgriTech Farm in Rowan County). She also showed a pre-recorded conversation with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear who said, “We are working every single day along with academia and our private sector to push Kentucky to the forefront of agricultural technology.”

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Mr. Quarles said Kentucky is a small-farm state with 76,000 farms and the challenge is to produce more on less land as population increases and demand for food increases.

Mr. Adkins also addressed the challenge of more food on less land by talking about growing crops in a vertical type setting in vacated buildings. Mr. Adkins said before he became Senior Adviser to Governor Beshear, he was associated with the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky. And a big concern of his to bring back hope and opportunity for those who lost their jobs in the eastern coal mines.

AppHarvest CEO Mr. Webb talked about how Kentucky in the past has imported crops from California and other states in the southwest of the United States. However, he said California last year (2021)  experienced drought, a depletion of its water resources, and restrictions on use of water. In a pre-recorded video shown in this KET broadcast, he talks globally and says, “The United Nations estimates that we need to produce 50 to 70% more food.” AppHarvest has a sixty-acre facility in Morehead (Rowan County) Kentucky where they get thirty times the productivity of traditional farming. Resources used are natural sunlight, solar panels, LED lights, collected rainwater, and a nutrient medium other than soil. AppHarvest is also training high school students in Central Appalachia so they know how to work in AgriTech.

Another part of the broadcast featured ideas about Aquaponics which uses the waste from fish to fertilize plants grown without soil. And toward the end of this KET Forum program, Mr. Quarles discussed technology used by Kentucky’s livestock farmers including dairy farms which are using robotic milking.

The final words of Mr. Webb emphasize adults having family gardens and engaging children to plant, grow, harvest, and eat from whatever little plot they have. Also, he encourages supporting neighborhood farmers’ markets and passing along the knowledge of where our food comes. He says both of these activities lead to better health.

Concluding words of Dr. Williams show excitement for Kentucky to become one of the leaders in the nation and even in the world in agricultural technology.

The Future of Kentucky’s Farming
A Review of the May 23, 2022 KET Forums Program
By Connie Carlisle Polley, 2022

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