Home   News

Agribusiness: Making Kentucky the Ag Tech Capital of the U.S.

Agribusiness: Making Kentucky the Ag Tech Capital of the U.S.

Building on its history of innovation in agriculture and the success of its signature industries, Kentucky is making strides toward becoming the agricultural technology capital of the United States.

Kentucky is uniquely positioned to attract, develop and sustain agtech companies. Its dominance in the equine industry, the booming bourbon sector, genetic progress in poultry and sustainability advancements in no-till farming make Kentucky attractive to agribusinesses, said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. Traditional business incentives and agriculture resources like funding, networking and marketing support for startups sweeten the pot.

Farming is important to Kentucky’s identity but also vital to its economy.

In 2020, Kentucky farmers achieved $5.2 billion in farm cash receipts, with the leading ag product being soybeans. In 2021, there were over 74,000 farms in Kentucky, covering nearly 13 million acres of land—more than 50% of Kentucky’s acreage.

Since the state’s early days, farmers have sought innovative ways to increase yields and efficiency.

“The pioneering spirit of Kentucky’s early settlers laid the groundwork for our state to be the bourbon epicenter of the world, and those same tendencies helped develop no-till crop production methods in Christian County in the late 1950s,” said Timothy D. Hughes, senior trade advisor in Quarles’ office at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Sixty years ago, farmer Harry Young made an incredible impact on Kentucky agriculture when he planted his first commercial no-till crop, injecting seeds into fields to avoid plowing, which disrupts soil biology and leads to it washing away.

“All of our topography is rolling, and people farmed it using conventional tillage because they had to. We had so many ditches. It was a real mess,” said Lloyd Murdock, professor emeritus in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Kentucky was headed for a situation that would have put us out of crop production had it not been for no-tillage.”

Today, no-till crop production continues to improve soils and water quality across the world. Farmers practice no-tillage on more than 104 million U.S. acres, according to the 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, the latest on record.

Companies like AppHarvest are following in Young’s ambitious and inventive footsteps, seeking ways to change the future of farming.

AppHarvest uses large-scale controlled-environment agriculture to preserve natural resources, improve nutrition, create better jobs and advance ag technology.

“The world is looking to Kentucky as a leader in the field, as the building of our controlled-environment agriculture facility in Morehead has captivated onlookers from around the globe,” said Jonathan Webb, founder and chief executive officer of AppHarvest.

The now-publicly traded AppHarvest has certainly made a splash, but the company isn’t alone in its resourcefulness. Its success was built on Kentucky’s strong foundation of innovation.

“Many firms are innovating a wide array of technologies to advance diverse fields of agriculture,” said Hughes.
Among them:

  • Alltech, headquartered in Nicholasville, is one of the world’s top five animal health and nutrition companies. Its products improve the health and performance of plants and animals, resulting in better nutrition for consumers and a decreased environmental impact. Its accelerator program, the Pearse Lyons Cultivator, is working with five agtech startups that are using innovative technologies to improve animal welfare, production and profitability for producers and offer greater access to nutritious food for consumers.
  • In Stanford, Kentucky Fresh Harvest operates a controlled-environment agriculture facility, where it aims to build a more equitable, sustainable food system focused on growing communities.
  • Smart Farm Systems, founded in 2012 by Nicholasville resident Bob Farinelli and partners, uses large-area wireless remote monitoring and control systems for farm irrigation pumps and environmental, soil moisture and water level monitoring devices.
  • TapLogic, headquartered in Murray, offers advanced information management software for farmers. Its web-based and mobile technology helps growers build better record sets and uses them to increase the efficiency of their operations.
  • Lepidext produces Insterus-Hz, a biopesticide to control the corn earworm, a pest that costs U.S. farmers $2 billion per year. Lepidext isolated a strain of a naturally occurring virus that causes sterility in the corn earworm. Moths treated with Insterus-Hz can be released in a field, decreasing the number of eggs laid in the crop and reducing the local population of resistant insects.
  • Murray-based Ag Connections, now called Syngenta Digital, develops and continuously updates crop management software solutions to increase farm efficiency.

UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has a long history of developing innovations that lead to new agtech businesses and better opportunities for producers, said Lesley D. Oliver, associate director of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and director of industry partnerships at UK’s ag department.

Two examples are MosquitoMate and Redleaf Biologics.

MosquitoMate was created by Stephen Dobson, an entomology professor at the UK who found a creative way to get rid of mosquitoes: Unlike females, male mosquitoes do not bite. Since female mosquitoes tend to be monogamous, once a sterile male mates with a female, her eggs will not hatch, thus eliminating the next generation. MosquitoMate produces sterile male mosquitoes as a biopesticide, helping eradicate mosquito problems.

Redleaf Biologics is a biomanufacturing company that uses patented, non-GMO plant genetics to produce rare and valuable functional ingredients from plants. Those ingredients are used for health, wellness, cosmetic applications and more.

“The result is not only a portfolio of products that are natural, sustainable, and highly scalable, but a company that is creating an entirely new agro-economic value chain and driver of sustainable economic development in Kentucky,” said Luke Fish, RedLeaf’s business development manager.

Click here to see more...

Trending Video

Soybean Stem Borer - Robert Wright

Video: Soybean Stem Borer - Robert Wright

Before we know it, the 2023 growing season will be here. There are several pests that can cause commotion in your crops. However, the Soybean Stem Borer is becoming more widespread in Nebraska’s soybean fields.