FRANKFORT, Ky. – Lawmakers will be back in Frankfort on Tuesday, January 7, for the 2020 General Assembly session.
This year is a budget year meaning there is a lot of potential for agencies and departments in the state including the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says he hopes the General Assembly will maintain full funding for the Department of Agriculture. This includes funding for an operational budget to help continue to maintain necessary inspections, marketing tools such as Kentucky Proud and making sure the department has adequate equipment to combat animal diseases.
Quarles will also be fighting for funding for the Farms to Food Banks Trust Fund, a fund that helps food banks throughout the commonwealth.
“All we are asking for is making sure we can continue to our job that the General Assembly asks us to do every day,” Quarles said.
Modernizing the hemp laws in Kentucky to align with the federal government hemp program is another priority for KDA. Quarles says he will be spending time in Washington D.C. to work with federal lawmakers and other states in his role as Vice-President of all agriculture commissioners in America to create the most hemp policy in Kentucky.
“We’re going to make sure we try our best to not only educate federal policymakers but to get it right and not regulate this crop to death right as it is getting off the ground,” Quarles said.
KDA would also like to see the General Assembly update pesticide licensing law which hasn’t been updated since the 1970s. Quarles says since the law was last updated many things have changed and technology developed that are not included in the current definitions.
“We’re looking forward to doing this and also providing that balance of public protection and safety but also making sure that companies can go about their business,” Quarles said.
That’s not the only law Quarles would like to see modernized, food safety laws also need an update. KDA is advocating for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) which would give the department, the Kentucky Food Safety Branch and the University of Kentucky the authority to implement the federal mandate instead of having the Food and Drug Administration implement it. This piece of legislation has been in the works for two years.
“This is very, very important that we get it right because there are new mandates at not only the farm level but also the food production supply chain,” Quarles said. “We feel confident that we got a bill in place that protects again health safety concerns but also reflects new mandates that have been passed down by the federal government. “
Quarles says these mandates have been able to be fulfilled using federal grants meaning no Kentucky taxpayer dollars have gone toward funding the program.
Quarles says he believes the hardest part of gaining lawmakers’ approval for his legislative goals is educating them on the importance of them.
“It’s important that we communicate, we advocate and we also help answer questions that some folks may not know a difference between a soybean and a green bean, so a big part of my job is being not only an advocate but a cheerleader about what’s important for Kentucky agriculture,” said Quarles. “2020 is a budget year that is going to be a priority for us to make sure that we make sure we can continue to do and perform our functions that are required by law.”
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture says they will continue to maintain their low number of employees to try and keep their budget as low as they can.