Dean Schamore, the executive director the Farm Service Agency for Kentucky, told attendees at the Annual Farm City Dinner on March 7 Kentucky farmers are vital to the economy and security in the state’s food production.
“Farmers are under challenges from many different ways in these modern times,” Schamore said. “They continue to innovate and are producing more than ever before on fewer farms. Technology and efficiency are playing a big role in that.”
Schamore was appointed as the state FSA director in January by President Joe Biden. Schamore has a background as a small businessman, and served as a state representative in the Kentucky General Assembly for six years. In that role, Schamore was a member of the Agriculture and Tobacco Settlement Committees.
“I enjoyed my time on those committees and finding ways to serve the ag economy and my constituents,” he said. “I am a strong believer in customer service, and that is a big part of the job I do now with FSA.”
FSA operates under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and is responsible for operating programs in agricultural policy, credit and loans, commodity support, disaster relief, and farm marketing.
Schamore oversees a network of 64 FSA offices across Kentucky, and more than 300 employees.
“It’s a big job to do,” said Schamore. “I was asked early on what my agenda was. I do not have an agenda other than providing customer service and information to our farmers in Kentucky.”
The director said he is proud of Kentucky’s decision to use Tobacco Settlement funds to diversify and improve Kentucky agriculture economy, when other states were putting the revenue directly into the General Fund. Kentucky also dedicates 50 percent of the annual $95 million into childcare programs.
“We have made great progress in finding alternatives to tobacco crops for Kentucky farmers with those funds,” Schamore said. “We’ve gotten a great return on our investment.”
Schamore has a background in farming, and currently owns a 250-acre farm and a small cattle herd.
He said the landscape of farming in Kentucky has changed dramatically in the past 100 years, and farmers in Hancock County are no different. According to agriculture census numbers, there were 1,483 farms in Hancock County in 1909. Numbers fell to 715 in 1969, and 321 in 2017. Most of those farms are one to nine acres in size.
There are currently only 17 farms in the county 999 acres or more, with two of those operations more than 2,000 acres.
“There are not that many people farming today,” Schamore said. “Farmers have to be more efficient, and technology has played a big role.”
Most farmers today are using management software and GPS to monitor crop yields from year-to-year, which aids in fertilizer applications, tracking which fields are most productive, and maximizing seed stock.
“We are farming smarter today, and producing at higher rates, with fewer operators,” he said. As an example, in the county there were 84,000 acres in farmland in 1969, with 14,000 acres harvested. In 2017, there were 47,000 acres in farmland, with 18,000 acres harvested.
There were 113 full-time farmers in Hancock County in 2017, and that number is likely lower today.
Schamore said FSA is currently involved in disaster relief in Kentucky following destructive tornados and other natural disasters in the state. He has been on the ground in Graves County to assess damage, and said producers all across the western half of the state have suffered losses of livestock, equipment and facilities.
Recently, $10 billion has been appropriated to aid American farmers adversely affected by destructive storms, wildfires, and winter storms which have struck across the country. As well, in 2019 FSA administered $190 million in farm loan programs in Kentucky.
Tate lauds local progress
Hancock County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources Evan Tate told attendees it is important for local residents to support farmers.
“For every dollar we spend locally, that dollar will turn over seven times before it leaves the county,” Tate said. “We are fortunate to be in a rural area with food security, and access to fresh products, many times coming directly from the farm.”
Tate said up to $145,000 in Tobacco Settlement Funds are dispersed in the county annually, with the local Agriculture Board investing in ag enterprises, resulting in increased profitability.
“With the support of the Cattlemen’s Association, our youth livestock programs are training and inspiring the next generation of producers,” Tate said. “This allows young people to experience raising livestock, and we enjoy great partnerships through 4-H and FFA.”
As well, the Association provides cost share programs to assist young people interested in a future in livestock production.
By C. Josh Givens