Home » Ag Report names its Top 10 Most Influential People in Agriculture

Ag Report names its Top 10 Most Influential People in Agriculture

Roger Thomas was named the Most Influential Person in Agriculture by Kentucky Agriculture Report.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 23, 2012) — The Kentucky Agriculture Report recently released its Top 10 Most Influential People.

Photos below story.

Kara Keeton of Keeton Communications, publisher of Kentucky Agriculture Report, sent an informal poll to over 100 individuals across the state, from farmers to leaders of commodity groups, asking them to share their lists of the most influential people in Kentucky agriculture today.

“While the poll was in no way statistically significant, I did receive and amazing response,” Keeton said.

No. 10 — Billie Joe Miles

Billie Joe Miles is not just an influential leader in Kentucky agriculture today, but has been strong voice in agriculture on the state, national, and international level for decades, Keeton said. Miles is best known in agricultural circles as owner of Miles Farm Supply in Owensboro and as an entrepreneur and advocate for the use of innovative technology in agriculture.

Even though the company chose to get out of the farm supply business and rename the company to Miles Enterprises, Miles continues to remain an influential leader in Kentucky’s agriculture community and beyond, she said.

No. 9 — Tom McKee

Tom McKee is an advocate for Kentucky agriculture in his role as state representative for Kentucky’s 78th district, which includes Harrison, Pendleton and Robertson Counties, plus a part of Campbell County. McKee also farms in Harrison County and has been able to bring the voice of the farmer to Frankfort since 1996, Keeton said. He is the chair of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, and he also serves on the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee.

Since House Bill 611 was passed in 2000, McKee has been an outspoken supporter the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund investments made through cost-share programs on the local level. As a farmer, he says he has seen how this cost-share opportunities have helped his neighbors and farmers across the state make much needed improvements to their farms, Keeton said.

No. 8 — Dave Maples

Dave Maples might have grown up on his family’s cattle farm in Alabama, but after more than a decade as the executive director of the Kentucky Cattleman Association, everyone in Kentucky’s cattle industry would agree that he has become an honorary Kentuckian, Keeton said.

Maples admits he never imagined the opportunities that lay ahead for him and the Association when he accepted the position more than a decade ago.

“It has just been unreal what the Ag Development Fund investments have done for Kentucky’s cattle industry,” he said. “What has been even more amazing is how everyone has worked together to make it all happen, from our producers working at the county level to the industry leaders across the state.”

Maples is not one to seek out the spotlight and prefers to have the leadership at KCA to be the face of the industry. According to those leaders, what makes Maples so influential is his ability to connect people at all levels of the industry, from the farmer in the field to the political leaders, Keeton said.

No. 7 — David Givens

David Givens is a farmer, a partner in Central Farmers Supply in Greensburg, and has served as the Kentucky State Senator for the 9th district, comprised of Allen, Barren, Edmonson, Green, Metcalfe and Simpson counties, since 2009.

As a senator, Givens has been a strong advocate for agriculture and rural development issues. He serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, as a member of the Tobacco Settlement and Oversight Committee, as well as other committees.

Shortly after Givens took office in 2009, Keeton asked him what it was like to be on the other side of the table when it came to discussing issues like the ag development fund.

He said, “The first thought that comes to mind is that the credibility I will have as a voice for agriculture will be substantially more. It is not that I’m any different as a person today than a year ago, but my credibility as a senator makes my voice a bit louder.”

No. 6 — Sam Moore

Sam Moore has worn many hats in his years of service to agriculture — president of Kentucky Farm Bureau, president of Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, Kentucky State Fair Board member and Kentucky Ag Development Board member, just to name a few. Yet the hats he wears the mostly proudly today are those of a father, grandfather and a cattle and row crop farmer in Butler County.

It is his rich love of the land, his unwavering support of this family, and his faith that has driven him to do more than just what was expected in his leadership roles. Moore truly believes in Kentucky agriculture and the spirit of the farmer.

While Moore does not hold the leadership positions he once did, that hasn’t limited his influence or respect in Kentucky’s agriculture industry. His service to agriculture is legendary, not only because he has given so much of himself, but because he was willing to take the lead during times of great change in Kentucky agriculture.

No. 5 — Wayne Hunt

Wayne Hunt is a true entrepreneur and businessman. He founded Agri-Chem, which provides ag-supply products and services to area farmers and has locations in Christian County and beyond. He founded Agri-Power Inc. in 1990 when he took over the Case company store in his hometown of Hopkinsville.

In 1993, H&R Agri-Power was formed by the merger of H&R Implement Co., Inc. and Agri-Power Inc, and today the company has seven stores in three states.

Hunt has an extensive grain farm based in Christian County; he is a manager for Commonwealth Agri-Energy, and serves on boards throughout the state including the Kentucky Ag Development Board and the Kentucky Ag Finance Board.

“I once read that Wayne Hunt was known as the Godfather of agriculture in Western Kentucky, but I think that person had it wrong,” Keeton said. “Hunt’s influence reaches far beyond the row crops of western Kentucky and far beyond the field of agriculture. Still, I’ve always wanted to ask Wayne about that title, but I suspect all I would get is just a laugh.”

No. 4 — James Comer 

James Comer has been touted as a rising star in the Republican party, but the newly elected Commissioner is more excited these days about his chance to serve Kentucky’s agriculture community leading the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Comer admits he has always had a love for farming and politics and tried to balance the two while serving as state representative. As commissioner, Comer knows he will not have the opportunity to be out in his farm field like he is used to, but instead he is going to be out in the field working with farmers across the state on initiatives to improve Kentucky agriculture.

“I would not be Commissioner today if it was not for the ag community coming together to support me in the election,” he said. “I am going to be the Commissioner that comes to meetings, gets involved with issues, and stands up for the agriculture and rural community.”

No. 3 — Mark Haney

Mark Haney, a long-time Kentucky Farm Bureau leader, was elected in December 2008 to serve his first term as the Kentucky Farm Bureau President.

As a fourth-generation farmer, Mark Haney believes in the importance of family farm and the farm family to Kentucky’s future. He and his brother Don are partners in a cattle operation, but their claim to fame in agriculture circles is their 134-year-old family orchard, Haney’s Appledale Farm, one of the oldest agritourism venues in the state. As such, Haney has been an outspoken advocate for Kentucky’s horticulture and agritourism industries for over two decades.

Haney has served as president for Kentucky’s largest agriculture organization, half a million members strong in 2011, for three years. During his presidency, he has focused on strengthening the partnerships in agriculture, while making agriculture education for the farmer and consumer a priority.

“We have to make our urban and rural neighbors understand how important agriculture is to their lives, show them how it all ties together,” Haney said. “If we want our farm economy to be strong, rural Kentucky has to be strong.”

No. 2 — Scott Smith

Scott Smith has served Kentucky agriculture since 1978 when he began his career at UK as an agronomy researcher. In January 2001, Smith became dean of the UK College of Agriculture, a position that holds integrated administrative responsibilities for research, instruction and extension at the college. Smith also leads the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station, the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and he represents the college on various agricultural boards.

When Smith took the helm of the UK College of Agriculture, it was only months after the Kentucky Ag Development Fund was established. As a member of the Ag Development Board and Dean of the College he worked with the Extension Service and the Governor’s Office of Ag Policy to define the role that extension would play in helping to implement the County Ag Development Councils and programs across the state.

In the past decade, Kentucky farmers have faced one of the most historic changes in agriculture, and they have turned to the Extension service for support and the research the needed as they worked to diversify way from tobacco. It has been the influence of Dean Smith, and his commitment to diversification efforts that has helped to make sure the resources were there in Extension to provide the farmers with the assistance they needed.

No. 1 — Roger Thomas

Born and raised on a dairy farm in Smith’s Grove, Roger Thomas was always actively involved in agriculture. His agriculture leadership experiences inspired the full-time farmer to run for the Kentucky Legislature in 1996 during a special election. This win began his almost nine years of service as a state representative, during which time he was actively involved in the passage of House Bill 611. After leaving the legislature in 2005, Thomas helped establish the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, and served as the executive director of that organization until he was asked by Gov. Steve Beshear to take over the helm of the GOAP in December 2007.

While Thomas is the first to admit that crafting and passing House Bill 611 in 2000 was not an easy task. After four years of working on the other side implementing the programs and continually educating legislators to the importance of the Ag Development Funds, Thomas believes the his current challenge is the greater of the two.

“While I am honored and humbled that the farmers and leaders in Kentucky agriculture would view me as one of the most influential people in agriculture today, the success we are seeing in Kentucky agriculture has only been possible with everyone working together,” Thomas said. “It takes influence is at all levels, from the farm to the state offices, to make a difference and I hope everyone in Kentucky agriculture realizes that fact.”

Honorable mentions

There are a few individuals that didn’t quite make the Top 10, but Keeton said she felt they deserved to be noted for the influence they have had on Kentucky agriculture in the past and continue to have today.

Sharon Burton was described by one farmer as the queen of Kentucky ag media. As owner and editor of Farmer’s Pride, Sharon has worked tirelessly over the past 20 years making sure the voice of the farmer is heard.

Wendell Berry has been a strong voice for the farmer, the conservationist, the local consumer, and the agriculture and rural communities for decades in his classic nonfiction works like the “Unsettling of America,” as well as his fictional stories of Port William.

Bruce Harper is what I like to call the ‘connector’ in Kentucky agriculture,” Keeton said. “While Bruce tends to stay behind the scenes, he has that special gift for bringing people in the world of Kentucky agriculture together.”