Lifetime Grayson County resident, Warren Beeler, was recently appointed by the new Kentucky Governor, Matt Bevin, to be the director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP).
As Beeler explained in a recent News-Gazette interview, the GOAP oversees the distribution of money that comes in from the tobacco settlement.
“As directed by House Bill 611, half of that money goes into health care, and the other half goes toward agriculture,” Beeler explained. “And as long as cigarettes are being sold, there will be money coming into the state.”
According to Beeler, since the settlement in 2003, close to half a billion dollars has come in. It has been projected that this year the state will receive $87 million, half of which will go to the agriculture department. Some of that money will go to debt service on local and rural water and sewer line projects. The rest, and Beeler estimates it at around $25 million, will be overseen by his office for projects around the state.
Of that $25 million, 35 percent will be distributed to the counties for local projects, with the other 65 percent going for state projects. The state money is overseen by the Agriculture Finance Corporation, which distributes the funds through low-cost loans.
Before taking the job with GOAP, Beeler worked for a number of years under former Ag Commissioner James Comer, traveling the state promoting agriculture to anyone who would listen. He estimated he had given more than 150 talks to various assemblies.
“Kentucky does a great job of farming, but does a terrible job of telling people about it,” Beeler said. “There is a great disconnect… people don’t have a clue where their food comes from, or what progress we have made toward taking care of the land, the water and our animals.”
Beeler said he is excited about the future because of the great relationship that exists between the governor and the new Agriculture Commissioner, Ryan Quarles.
“It’s the first time in 17 years I’ve been around where the governor and the Ag Commissioner have been on the same page.”
Beeler said that the new governor does not know a lot about agriculture, but said he wants badly to learn. Beeler pointed out that the governor has a great fondness for 4-H.
Beeler had some concerns when the governor first told him he wanted him for the job.
“I told the governor if he just wanted someone to count the money, I wasn’t interested in the job,” Beeler said. “But he looked me in the eye and said he didn’t want this money to become a slush fund.”
That was just what Beeler needed to hear and said, “I grinned all over myself.”
A typical day for Beeler starts in Caneyville at 4:20 a.m. before making the long trip to Frankfort.
“It’s a long day, but I do some of my best thinking behind the wheel” he said. “And people know they can call me at 5:30 and reach me. I get in to the office around 6 or 6:30.”
He said he will be spending even more time on the job during the legislative session, when he hopes to get to know more of the legislators.
“I know the legislators on the ag committees in both houses, and am good friends with both chairs, but I want to know all of the others.”
Beeler is currently working on his budget, which is something that is unknown to him.
“Any time you take on a new job, you’re a little bit scared, but a whole lot excited,” he said. “My theory has always been you make up for what you don’t know by effort.”
Beeler admitted the scariest part of his new job is that he is not a political person.
“I’m an ag guy, I just do what I think is right for the ag community.”
And he said that has benefited him with that community because they know he is all about them. He said that while politics creeps in, “We’re going to find good projects that help agri-businesses and help farmers.”
Beeler recognizes that the face of agriculture is changing around the country and it is no different in Kentucky.
“The new consumer wants a lot done for them when they buy food at the store. We don’t need to be selling cabbages, we need to sell cole slaw in a bag.”
He said he recently talked to a man from Ashland who wants to build a 200-acre greenhouse which would produce two semi-loads of lettuce per day for local consumption.
“The guys in the office said he wasn’t a farmer, but I told them he is the new farmer,” Beeler said. “There is no reason to truck stuff from California and be two or three days old, when we can get it the next day from a greenhouse.”
Beeler cited a number of projects that are currently under way dealing with a wide range of items that may or may not become viable agricultural products: chia seeds, sumac, industrial hemp, and canola.
“Who knows what agriculture will look like in 20 years,” he said. “The job of GOAP is to research these projects and present them to the Agricultural Development Board to decide whether to fund them or not. This money allows us to take chances and experiment, to find out what we do well and to find ways to do it even better.”
Beeler said that it is important to him that he makes sure that this money is having the same effect it had when it first started to be available.
“That county money has been wonderful for building hay structures, improving forages, internal fences… billions of things,” he said. ” We must continue to ensure that this money is being used effectively.”
The way Beeler plans to do this is by traveling around the state, just like he has been doing for a number of years, and listening to farmers telling him what they need, because they are the ones who know.
For many years now, Beeler has traveled around the country doing livestock judging and he still plans on doing that when he is able.
“I don’t fish, or hunt, or play golf, but I do junior shows with kids,” he said. “It makes me feel good.”
His own children went through those programs and he believes strongly the life lessons taught there are invaluable.
“How to win, how to act when you win. How to lose, how to act when you lose and how to learn from losing. Life is not fair and it will whip you a bunch of times, but if you can learn and not make the same mistakes, you will progress.”
Reach Don Brown at 259-9622, ext. 2016.