Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette Bluegrass Livestock CEO Jim Akers speaks about the "cattle cycle" and how cattle farmers can best take advantage of it.

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

Bluegrass Livestock CEO Jim Akers speaks about the "cattle cycle" and how cattle farmers can best take advantage of it.

The third annual Ready to Grow Agriculture Summit was held on Wednesday, March 13 in a joint effort to help Grayson County farmers prosper in today's economic climate.

Sponsored by The Cecilian Bank and Kurtz Auction & Reality, the ag summit featured presentations by five guest speakers from various fields of expertise, as well as an award presentation and complimentary lunch by K's Cafe.

First on the agenda was Keith Rogers, chief of staff for Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, who spoke about the challenges faced by farmers in 2018 due to inclement weather, as well as the success of the state's Kentucky Proud agriculture marketing strategy.

Rogers said that Kentucky Proud has over 75 percent participation among Kentucky producers with more than 7,000 members currently and that the brand has helped Kentucky agriculture move from a one-crop industry (tobacco) to a diverse production.

He also discussed how the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund has helped build a strong agriculture infrastructure in the state and assisted with Kentucky's growing diversification of produce.

The fund is administered by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board for the purpose of investing in innovative proposals that increase net farm income and affect tobacco farmers, tobacco-impacted communities, and agriculture across the state by stimulating markets for Kentucky agricultural products.

Rogers addressed hemp, as well, saying that Kentucky is on the leading edge with what has been done to build a hemp industry in the state, going from 33 acres planted in 2014 to over 50,000 acres in 2019. Hemp, he said, will be another tool in Kentucky's efforts to diversify its agricultural products.

"Kentucky is on the front lines of this," Rogers said.

Rogers was followed by United Soybean Board Chairman Keith Tapp, who discussed the efforts made by his organization over the past 18 months to review the international marketing strategy for soybeans.

"Our mission at USB is to promote profitability for producers," he said.

According to Rogers, soybean acreage has grown by millions over the past three decades, as has profitability, so the outlook remains positive for farmers who invest in soybean production.

Bluegrass Livestock CEO Jim Akers then spoke about the challenges of raising beef cattle, as well as how having knowledge of the "cattle cycle" can help increase profits for producers.

According to Akers, the average cost of owning a cow for one year is about $600, and beef cattle farmers must work off of that number to know how to make their operations profitable and sustainable.

He said the peak of the cow population in America was in the 1970's, but there is more beef produced now than ever before because producers have learned to be more efficient and produce more with less.

"We don't need as many animals to produce products," Akers said.

In order for cattle industry producers to succeed, according to Akers, they must become educated on the cattle cycle, the 12-to-15-year period during which the number of US beef cattle inflated or reduced in response to profitability in America.

Currently, America is in the stage of the cattle cycle in which the cattle population is higher but profitability is lower, Akers said, adding that, as herd sizes decrease over the next year or so, prices will begin to increase.

Despite poor weather in 2018 and low profitability in the beef cattle industry, Akers, who has worked with beef cattle his entire life, said producers can expect to see the market begin to recover this year and next year.

He encourages farmers to research the cattle cycle and speak with their loan officers about how best to take advantage of the cycle, such as taking out loans to buy cattle when costs are down so they can be more fruitful when profits are up.

"The cattle cycle is real," Akers said. "It's not hard to understand."

Akers was then followed by Warren Beeler, a Caneyville native and the executive director of the Governor's Office of Agriculture Policy, who spoke about the changing agriculture industry and how producers must change the way they operate to remain profitable.

Years ago, Beeler said, Kentucky had 2,200 dairies across the commonwealth, but that number has dwindled to fewer than 500 currently.

These reductions are expected to come to the beef cattle industry eventually, as well, so farmers must re-think how they market their products.

As an example, Beeler said that, while milk has become less profitable for producers due to an abundance of product, the state has been exploring ways to build value and markets for other dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt.

At the state level, officials, thanks to the Agricultural Development Fund, are attempting to further Kentucky's agricultural growth and progress by investing in new and innovative products. The Kentucky agriculture community, in order to ensure its longevity, must continue to invest in young farmers, growing small farms, and keeping up with the trends of the day, Beeler said.

Following Beeler's discussion, The Cecilian Bank recognized recently retired Larry Perkins as a Friend of Agriculture with a commemorative plaque, and Dr. Freddie Barnard, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, concluded the program with a presentation on how farmers can best prepare and keep record of their finances to maximize profits and reduce costs.