FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky, by most accounts, is the king of beef cattle production east of the Mississippi River.
The commonwealth has around a million head of beef cattle, making it the largest beef cattle producer in the eastern U.S. and the eighth-largest beef cattle producer in the country, according to Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Dave Maples. What it doesn’t have, he says, are large feedlots necessary to fatten, or finish, the cattle for market.
That requires many farmers in Kentucky and the region to send their cattle over 1,000 miles to Kansas or other states for finishing and processing, Maples told the state legislative Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee July 3.
Maples called the situation “a barrier to Kentucky producers.”
“Why can’t we do it here? I have been told we cannot do it in Kentucky,” he said. Too much mud and a lack of grain are at least two reasons Maples said he’s been given as to why feedlots and processing won’t work in the state, although he said large poultry houses and hog barns have been successful.
Transporting cattle thousands of miles out of state for finishing and processing also affects consumers — many of whom are now interested in tracing the origin of their food, said Maples.
“So what can we do? We’ve mapped out where the packing plants are. You look in our area; we don’t have processing,” he said. One solution may be to build a regional beef processing plant, Maples told the committee. So far, he said, Tennessee and Ohio have both shown interest in the idea.
The association’s governing board has approved a long-range plan that sets out what Maples said are four core strategies to improve opportunities for Kentucky’s beef industry.
“So we’re in a place where we can be a leader,” he said.
Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, asked Maples what the Kentucky General Assembly can do to help Kentucky cattle farmers remove transportation barriers to markets. Maples said Kentucky’s interstate roadways and railroads are working well, but that lawmakers might want to look at creating “farm-to-market roads” to beef up access between rural areas and market locations.
Representatives from the Kentucky Beef Network, or KBN — a division of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association — also spoke about their programs, many which have benefited from the state’s share of millions of dollars in funds received from a master tobacco settlement with large tobacco companies in the late 1990s. The purpose of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee is to oversee those funds.
KBN Chairman Cary King told the committee that he is excited for Kentucky beef cattle producers as the demand for Kentucky beef by major retailers, specifically Kroger, is growing here at home.
“I think we’re at the point now with the grain that we have, we’ve got the byproduct from the bourbon industry, that we can build some of these barns (here) and finish cattle inside,” said King.
“I think we can keep those cattle here, learn how to feed them here economically, and then go through Kroger and sell them to the population that’s so close to us. I think we’re right at the point of making a big difference,’ he said.