Comer will be back in August to emcee the Fancy Farm Picnic.
(Mayfield, KY – Mar. 5, 2012) -Mark Wilson may not have gone to Rotary today looking for an emcee to moderate the political speaking at his beloved Fancy Farm Picnic. But he left with one.
In the middle of the question and answer session following the speaker’s presentation, Wilson held up his hand and hollered from the back of the dining room of the Mayfield Graves Country Club. “Commissioner Comer, would you be willing to emcee this year’s Fancy Farm Picnic?”
Secretary of Agriculture Jamie Comer paused only briefly before saying “Yes.” The room full of Rotarians burst into laughter and applause.
Later, Wilson was asked if he was serious. Wilson said “Of course. And mark my words, that man will have eight years as Commissioner of Agriculture.”
Wilson should know about commissioners. He served under five of them, coming in with Butch Burnette, retiring during Commissioner Richie Farmer’s term.
Comer, a Tompkinsville beef farmer, told Rotary that he generally spends time at Rotary talking about the importance of agriculture to Kentucky. He did some of that, throwing out statistics like agriculture being bigger than auto manufacturing in Kentucky, a feat considering that the state is fourth in the nation for that industry. Agriculture’s biggest sector is, at this moment, poultry. Commissioner Comer said that, over the past sixteen years, the top product has gone from tobacco to horses to grain to chickens.
What Comer wanted to talk about is how his agency works. The Department of Agriculture is the largest regulatory agency in state government. Consumer and environmental protection make up 40% of their mission. Comer’s agency oversees every weight and measure from the gas pump to the grocery story. Ag employees test products for safety: products as dissimilar as eggs and gasoline. There are five state veterinarians who work in disease identification and prevention in crops and animals.
The Department of Agriculture also spends time promoting Kentucky products. Comer spoke of the Office of Marketing. The agency oversees displays, contests and expos like the just finished Beef Expo in Louisville. Comer said that the event had a record number of entries. Marketing manages the Kentucky Proud designation with close to 3,000 products recognized as being grown, produced or manufactured in Kentucky.
While agriculture has continued to dominate the state’s industry, the budget for the Department of Agriculture has gone from forty million dollars to 28 ½ million dollars. Staff has been cut from 400 to 250.
In response to a question on his attitude toward industrial hemp, Comer said that there is are bills in the Kentucky House and Senate that aren’t going anywhere. He assured the audience that industrial hemp is not marijuana. It is a crop that grows well in Kentucky and whose antecedents date to colonial times. North Dakota is the one state in the union that has an industrial hemp law. According to the Ag Secretary, all industrial hemp used in the US comes from Canada. The Canadians have set up processing facilities and send their product across the US border through the state of North Dakota. “They see what a boom it’s been for Canada” said Comer “and they want in.”
Comer came to the Purchase as part of a statewide tour to encourage farmers to give a donation in addition to buying their farm vehicle tags. All farm tags are purchased in March, unlike other vehicle licenses that correspond to the owner’s birthday. The extra $10 farmers donate will go to FFA (Future Farmers of America), 4-H and Kentucky Proud. Both programs have seen budget cuts in recent years.
Comer participated in both FFA and 4-H as a youngster. He is eager to see the programs he called "invaluable" to rural youth funded to a level that will provide programming to today's rural youth.