From a booming broiler sector and iconic products like tobacco and bourbon, to dedicated education and research, Kentucky agriculture is a big deal.
The Bluegrass State boasts 76,500 farms across 13 million acres of land. These farms raise the state’s top commodities, including broilers for meat, which brought $866.6 million to the economy in 2012, along with corn, horses and mules, soybeans, and cattle and calves.
A historically important crop for Kentucky, the state ranks first in the nation in burley and fire-cured tobacco production. For overall tobacco production, Kentucky ranks No. 2 in the nation, and the crop rings in at No. 6 in the state’s top 10 commodities. In 2012, farmers harvested 87,200 total acres of tobacco, generating $404.3 million in production value. Learn more about the many uses for this important crop on page 39.
Kentucky also sets the bar high with its No. 4 and No. 5 commodities, soybeans and beef cattle. In 2013, the state produced a whopping 81.1 million bushels of soybeans at $12.90 per bushel, which brought in a total of $1.04 billion. Beef wasn’t far behind. Kentucky is home to 1.1 million beef cows and takes the title as the largest producer of beef cattle east of the Mississippi River, and the eighth-largest in the nation. In 2012, Kentucky’s beef cattle contributed $656.7 million to the state’s economy.
But the state’s industry encompasses more than just agricultural commodities. Kentucky agriculture embraces education with two full-service veterinary diagnostic labs located at state universities; agritourism that includes signature equine events and youth agriculture programs; and the state’s global presence, including the prominence of agricultural exports that come from Kentucky. As agriculture across the nation continues to change and become more innovative, Kentucky is well positioned to continue its success.
Tapping Into Tobacco’s Medicinal Potential
Kentucky’s tobacco industry is on the brink of a revolution. Recent studies indicate that tobacco can be used for HIV prevention and Ebola treatment.
Institutions such as UK’s Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center are exploring these new applications. Kentucky-based tobacco research has been making headlines with Ebola treatment developments. Kentucky Bioprocessing Inc. helped provide plant-made antibody treatments administered to those infected with the Ebola virus. “Antibodies can target and inactivate viruses, making them effective treatments for viral diseases such as Ebola,” says Orlando Chambers, managing director of the UK Center.
Tobacco may also be a valuable weapon in the fight against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. With grant support, University of Louisville researchers are working to develop a tobacco-based gel to prevent HIV transmission.
“It is exciting to see this high-tech industry advancing in Kentucky,” Chambers says. “As the technology continues to improve, it will hopefully allow for more applications to be commercially viable.”
Next time you’re sipping on a classic Old Fashioned, thank Kentucky. A claim to fame for the state, the time-honored tradition of making fine Bourbon has been passed down and unchanged since the early 1700s.
The tradition began when early farmers found that converting corn and other grains to whiskey made them easily transportable and prevented the excess grain from rotting. They shipped the whiskey in oak barrels to New Orleans, and as the whiskey aged, the oak gave it its flavor and color.
Kentucky’s Bourbon industry grew over the next few centuries, and today, the industry helps create 15,400 jobs and generates more than $195 million in tax revenue for the state each year. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which features seven distilleries in central Kentucky, is a boon to the state’s tourism industry, with nearly 2.5 million visitors from all 50 states and 25 countries visiting in the past five years.