Ryan Quarles, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner: HWC-2018-03-06
Listen to this episode here.
Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, at 34, is the youngest statewide elected official in the USA. And that’s just one of the many numbers we learned in getting to know more about this public servant.
- Nine in 200: the number of generations his family has been farming in Kentucky: more than 200 years, since Kentucky became a state in 1792.
- Five in Four: the number of degrees he completed during his first four years at the University of Kentucky: three undergraduate degrees (Ag Econ, Public Service and Leadership, Political Science), plus a Masters in Ag Economics and a Masters in International Trade from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.
- Three: the additional degrees he has completed—almost! He earned a masters in higher education from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Kentucky. In May, he will receive his doctorate in higher education from Vanderbilt University.
In addition to the personal numbers, Commissioner Quarles came with many interesting statistics about Kentucky agriculture, including these:
- All told, Kentucky agriculture contributes $45 billion to the economy of the commonwealth.
- 4-H has 200,000 members in Kentucky.
- FFA has 16,000 members—with females in the majority.
- Kentucky's biggest commodity is poultry, at $1.2 billion annually.
- Corn and soy each bring in about $1 billion annually.
- Kentucky growers will plant 12,000 acres in industrial hemp this year, the largest acreage since the hemp Renaissance began.
Commissioner Quarles champions the ways Kentucky can offer distinctive products in addition to the commodities like corn and soy. He says, “We grow everything from Apples to Zucchini—and now truffle mushrooms—and we do it well.” For example, he says specialty grains are coming into production in Kentucky, along with an increase in wheat production. Hops for craft beers and kenaf, a fiber plant, join industrial hemp as new products Kentucky growers can consider to boost their family income.
In this episode, we talk more about those Kentucky truffle mushrooms, hear about a Kentucky tobacco farmer who developed a vaccine against the ebola virus. We learn that Kentucky’s chicken genetics—not just a certain branded fried chicken—show up in chickens around the world. We talk about the significance of the Kentucky Proud program, and the ways that initiative is broadening and deepening. We hear what life lessons the Commissioner learned while growing up on the family farm. We learn about a winning tradition in his family that involves precision tractor driving. We talk about the promise in new and renewed Kentucky agricultural and food products.
We appreciate Commissioner Quarles bringing his fresh, thoughtful views on sustaining Kentucky’s agricultural economy to the WLXU studios. We also thank the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's executive director of marketing, Melanie Blandford, for returning to the WLXU studios—even though we did not give her much air time. Melanie directs the acclaimed Kentucky Proud program, and is leading the new Kentucky Proud Weddings initiative.
Listen to learn how Commissioner Quarles sees Kentucky growers distinguishing themselves in the worldwide agricultural economy. Enjoy this rich, optimistic conversation. And enjoy our December 2017 show with Melanie Blandford here.