Continue to protect the Agricultural Cluster and equine industry, and support existing agricultural uses, while promoting new innovative agricultural uses in the Rural Service Area.
Before the beginning of the 21st century, with world-renowned soils and the risk of losing farmland to large lot residential and other development, Lexington started a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. The program has been in existence for nearly 20 years, with PDR easements protecting farmland for food security and for conservation of environmentally sensitive lands. Currently, 23% of the Rural Service Area (28,953 acres) is protected by PDR easements, with a stated end goal of 50,000 total acres, or 39% of the Rural Service Area, to be protected. Fayette County has committed millions to pay for PDR easements, which protects soils for the future. According to Beth Overman, Director of the PDR Program, most of the PDR easements are equine farms. These famous soils in the Rural Service Area, with many acres protected by PDR, provide nutrients that grow vigorous crops, as well as healthy, strong horses, cattle, and other livestock.
Bluegrass soil produces quality racehorses, which result in big purchase prices. Keeneland sales showed a rebound from the recession in 2011 and 2013 sales, but a leveling off between 2013 and 2017, with a slight upward turn in 2017. When adjusting the Keeneland sales for inflation over 17 years, the sales in 2017 were $374,900,540 lower than they were in the year 2000, or about half as much in Keeneland sales dollars in 2017 as there were in 2000. Sales appear to be holding steady, but have yet to approach pre-recession levels. Hopefully, initiatives like Horse Country tours, which are trying to build a new base of race fans, will help to bolster sales and increase interest in the sport.
Horse Country’s website states that their mission is to, “Connect guests to the horse, land, and people through experiences that inspire love of the animal and Kentucky.” Over the past three years, Horse Country, Inc., has sold 72,222 tour tickets to horse farms in Lexington and four other counties. There are a number of other tour companies, as well as individual horse farms that give tours. These tours should be publicized as much as possible, since they showcase a unique asset in Lexington that is not found anywhere else in the world.
Another driver of the agricultural economy in Lexington is The Bluegrass Stockyards, founded in 1946. The Bluegrass Stockyards’ new facility, located on Iron Works Pike, was built after the company’s original Lisle Industrial Avenue facility was destroyed by an accidental fire in January 2016. Bluegrass Stockyards employs about 50 people at the Lexington location; the company also currently operates seven live sale locations and an internet sale system, with a total employment of over 200.
The Lexington market “will handle $200-$250 million in business annually,” and sells 100,000-125,000 heads of cattle a year, with the entire network of seven live sale locations and internet sales selling about 500,000 heads of cattle annually, collectively. The Bluegrass Stockyards will handle over $600 million in transactions overall, with a customer base from 90 counties in Kentucky and eight surrounding states. Hogs, goats, and sheep are sold at other locations outside of Lexington.
The Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, Ryan Quarles, supports expanding Kentucky’s diverse agricultural portfolio to include industrial hemp, hops, and other crops. Kentucky Department of Agriculture has an Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program, which is authorized by state and federal law. Industrial Hemp remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance under state and federal law. Individuals and businesses that wished to be considered to join the Hemp program to grow, handle, process, or market hemp were required to apply for a license by established deadlines. To date, more than 50 processors/handlers have obtained licenses in the KDA Hemp Program, which began in 2014. In 2017, there were 3,200 acres planted, with 2,300 acres harvested. Additionally, opportunities may exist to build on the craft brewing trend and the distilleries close by, with the potential for growing hops for beer production and corn for bourbon.
Lexington is not only a popular destination for drinks, but also for the variety of restaurant offerings including ethnic, organic, and locally grown menu items. Millennials are attracted to eating out more than at home,particularly to restaurants offering sustainable, locally-grown and organic food. Locally-grown food should continue to be promoted in Lexington and sold in Lexington grocery stores and restaurants. Ashton Wright, PhD., is Lexington’s first Local Food Coordinator. She manages the Bluegrass Farm to Table program, works with Fayette County Public Schools, and helps get local fruits and vegetables onto the plates of low-income residents with a program to provide SNAP vouchers to increase the amount of local produce benefits. Lexington farms can make value-added products from the produce items they raise; in addition, farm owners can apply for a conditional use to run a gift shop where they could sell their locally made products.