by Don Weber –
LEXINGTON – Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles told members of the American Association of Meat Processors that they need to educate legislators and the public better about their business so people have a clearer understanding of their business and what possible legislation will help their businesses run smoother.
Quarles was the keynote speaker for the opening day of that organization’s convention in Lexington.
The commissioner acknowledged that currently many lack a clear understanding of how the agriculture business works.
“We simply live in a society where consumers don’t know how food travels from their farm gate to their dinner plate anymore,” Quarles said. “If you were to ask a fifth grader where their food comes from, what are they going to say? It just shows up at the grocery store.”
Quarles pointed out that the most effective way to get that message out is through social media, where the companies can reach the majority of their consumers.
“The millennial generation, those born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s are a very large segment of the American population. There’s 78 million of us,” Quarles said. “There are more millennials than there were baby boomers at their peak in the United States, and guess where they’re making their food decisions and getting informed about what they buy? Social media.”
A positive note for the beef industry is that beginning this past Sunday for the first time in 13 years, American beef can be exported to China, which opens up another huge potential market for beef producers.
“I’m proud to see conversations like this occurring in Washington, D.C., to opening up new markets and the fact that it may give you all an opportunity to have a market that’s beyond your traditional market right now,” Quarles said.
As for Kentucky, Quarles says one of his top priorities continues to be the Hunger Initiative, which brings together farmers, charitable organizations, faith groups, community leaders, and government entities to begin a dialogue to help reduce hunger in the state by taking excess food and making it available for the needy through food pantries across the state.
“One thing that we learned across the state is that farmers want to donate excess food, but by the time it gets to the pantry, there’s a lack of refrigeration and it spoils easily,” Quarles said. “We’re fortunate that just this week, Farm Credit Mid-America and CoBank have provided funding to buy over 140 refrigeration units to be spread across the food pantries across the state.”