Quarles lauds ‘Ag Tag’ donations in Woodford
During his visit to the Woodford County Courthouse on Monday morning, state Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles urged local motorists to continue making voluntary $10 donations when buying or renewing their Kentucky farm license plates. “The good thing about Woodford County,” said Quarles, “is that almost half of all (motorists who purchase) farm tags choose to donate, which is a lot higher than most counties.” Woodford County motorists donated $6,810 to the Ag Tag Fund when buying or renewing their farm plates last fiscal year, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. A third of the Ag Tag donations supported statewide efforts to promote agriculture, including Kentucky Proud. The remaining two-thirds provided financial support to 4-H and FFA programs, according to Quarles. He said half of the dollars donated by local motorists directly supported Woodford County’s 4-H and FFA programs. “So this is a great investment to the future of agriculture,” he said. Ag Tag donations have helped subsidize Woodford County High School’s FFA program so students don’t have to pay class fees or for lab supplies. The donations also help pay travel costs so students can go to FFA competitions and summer camp, said WCHS agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Tracy Probst. Quarles thanked Woodford County Clerk Sandy Jones, her deputies and county clerks across Kentucky for their continued support of the Ag Tag program, which generated $552,712.84 in statewide donations last fiscal year. Quarles described donations of $184,237 to the FFA and another $184,237 to 4-H as “serious, serious financial help for investing in the future of agriculture.” With the average age of a Kentucky farmer now 62, he said, “We’re fortunate to have very strong youth development programs. And that really helps encourage (young) people to not only get interested in farming, but also the science, technology, engineering and mathematics that today’s current agriculturist has to master.” Whether it’s growing a backyard garden or a raising a few chickens, Probst said her students are learning that agriculture can be a part of their lives – even if it’s not a full-time job. WCHS students Emma Cress and Caryl Lyn Akers said their involvement in the FFA has given them self-confidence and leadership skills for everyday life. “Both of us are probably the farthest thing from a farm girl that you will find,” said Caryl Lyn, 16. “But I know both of us, we love agriculture (and) we love everything that this program entails. I just think it’s a great program for us to further ourselves.” Three of Theresa Vanzant’s home-schooled children are very involved with Woodford County’s 4-H program, so she knows the value. “It gives our kids lots of opportunities,” said Vanzant. Her sons, Cole and Matthew, and oldest daughter, Elizabeth, were state winners in a recent 4-H Livestock Skillathon. “Because of the donations from Ag Tag, we’re able to send them to the state competition,” said Ryan Farley, Woodford County 4-H/youth development Extension agent. And as senior 4-H members, Cole and Matthew will join teammates Eliza Lavin and Chloe Wagner to represent Kentucky – and Woodford County – at the national competition. “That’s all possible because of the donations to the Ag Tag program,” said Farley. State Rep. James Kay, who joined Quarles at the courthouse on Monday morning, credited his involvement in the FFA during his freshman year at WCHS for helping him gain self-confidence as a public speaker. “That’s what broke the barrier,” said Kay, who represents Woodford County in the state House of Representatives. Asked about the current state of agriculture in Kentucky, Quarles said agriculture remains “vital to the economy” in Central Kentucky as producers diversify farming operations. “We’ve transitioned from a tobacco-dependent area in the state,” said Quarles. Not only are substantial investments still being made in the equine industry, Woodford County’s agriculture economy remains “the envy of other areas of Kentucky,” he said. Over the last 15 years, Quarles said money from Kentucky’s agricultural development fund has helped farmers diversify their farming operations. So in addition to its equine success and having more beef cattle than any other state east of the Mississippi, a greenhouse is being built on reclaimed coal mine land in Pike County where “we’re going to be growing produce for high-end restaurants across the United States,” said Quarles. And he said a vibrant farmers’ market has spread to 110 counties in the commonwealth. Quarles said Kentucky has also become a top producer of many grain crops – corn, wheat and soybeans were cited as examples. “And we’re not just growing it. We’re turning it into other products,” he said. “…If you’ve had a biscuit from a McDonald’s anywhere in Kentucky or the East Coast – that biscuit came from Kentucky. It was milled here in Western Kentucky.” When locally grown crops are processed to make biscuits and other value-added products, jobs are created and Kentucky’s economy benefits, Quarles said.