Ryan F. Quarles | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Ryan F. Quarles

Political party: 
Question 1: 

What is your vision for the role of the Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture? How will our commonwealth be better in four years if you are elected?

As Commissioner, we will continue to promote Kentucky agriculture, expand markets for our family farms, grow KY Proud, support our farmers' markets, continue our growth of industrial hemp, grow ag related jobs & economic development, support conservation efforts, encourage our young people to choose ag as a career, protect against consumer fraud at our gas stations, support ag education & safety programs, expand international trade opportunities and continue to fight hunger across the Commonwealth.  As demonstrated during my first term, Kentucky is better off with increase job growth in the ag sector, $1.8 million was raised for 4-H & FFA, we own the best hemp program in America, and I believe we have provided effective leadership for our farming & agriculture communities.  In four years, I hope our hemp program has matured with market success, our youth programs have flourished, our livestock safety protocols are maintained, and that everyday Kentuckians have access to local, nutritious KY Proud produce.  Finally, the best accomplishment after four years would be whether the KY agriculture community that raised me from birth would be better off, more efficient, open to consumer demands, and that less Kentuckians go to be hungry.

Question 2: 

How does your background qualify you for serving in this office? Please provide examples.

Growing up as a 9th generation Kentucky farmer, I believe I am qualified to continue serving as Agriculture Commissioner because I not only have dirt on my boots, but I have spent my life working with the farm community I love.  Spending 5 years on the House Agriculture Committee, my office has become effective at passing legislation with the KY General Assembly.  I also have an agriculture educational background, having earned three ag degrees at the UK College of Agriculture, including a Masters in Ag Economics.  But perhaps my strongest qualification is my upbringing on a Kentucky tobacco and cattle farm.  The lessons I learned in 4-H, FFA, and my family farm prepared me for serving as Commissioner of Agriculture and I humbly ask for a second term to continue the progress we have made.

Question 3: 

If elected, how would you use this office to advance equity among farmers and farmworkers in Kentucky? How would you increase the numbers of farms owned by black farmers after decades of racially biased refusal of farm loans? How would you protect the rights of migrant workers, such as those coming to Kentucky with H2A visas, and ensure that farmers are honoring the contracts they sign with these workers?

Providing opportunity for all farmers, both new and old, and regardless of race, continues to be a priority.  That's why I'm proud to report that here in Kentucky, we have a low interest loan program designed just for Kentucky farmers.  Under the Ag Finance Corporation, we dedicate over half of our loan portfolio to new and beginning farmers.  These low interest loans and grants are dedicated to all Kentuckians, regardless of race.  I also work closely with the UK MANRRS Chapter to recruit potential students and connect them with the ag job market.  Additionally, my office financially supports the annual Kentucky Small, Limited Resource, Minority Farmers conference.  In reference to H2A, my office has long supported an immigration system that works which provides for an adequate guest worker program.  We have worked with our farm community to ensure compliance with the H2A program in terms of housing, contract compliance, and arrangement of entry and departure logistics of those participating in the program.  Though not asked in your question, I have been a strong supporter of KY Women in Agriculture and recently received an award highlighting our commitment to their organization.

Question 4: 

Many farmers in southwestern Kentucky installed sizable solar energy systems, thanks in part to programs offered by the Tennessee Valley Authority. What will you do as Commissioner of Agriculture to enable more small farms across the Commonwealth to generate and benefit from renewable energy?

I am proud that as Commissioner, I have systematically supported programs using Tobacco Settlement money that allows a cost-share for those farmers hoping to install solar panels on their farming operations.  Each year, farmers continue to utilize this energy grant, often helping underwrite the costs of solar panels on barn roofs.  This is a program that has shown success and we will continue to support it.

Question 5: 

Given that many Kentuckians face challenges in accessing fresh foods, a number of programs exist in Kentucky to support food access for low-income communities, like Kentucky Double Dollars and the WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs. As Commission of Agriculture, how would you support these and similar programs to help Kentucky’s small farms provide healthy and affordable products to more Kentuckians? What role will you play in addressing the many food deserts across Kentucky?

As Commissioner, we already support all of these programs and more in my quest to reduce hunger in Kentucky.  Under my leadership, we started the Kentucky Hunger Initiative that has raised over $100,000 for our Food Banks, Glean Kentucky, and others.  We passed a law to give Kentucky the strongest food donation laws in the nation.  I have personally voted for hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to help fund Double Dollars.  My office not only administers the Senior Farmers Market vouchers, but also takes pride in helping in the 2018 Farm Bill by advocating for rule changes which would allow more innovative approaches towards addressing food deserts.  As a result of my efforts, Kentucky was chosen to host a national conference on food insecurity this year and in February, my annual Serving Up Solutions Dinner will raise over $50,000 for the anti-hunger community.   Sadly, despite these efforts we still have a long way to go.

Question 6: 

The legalization of industrial hemp offers new opportunities to Kentucky family farmers. What other opportunities will you seek out to make farming more sustainable and how will you advance these opportunities equitably and sustainably? Do you support  the legalization of medical marijuana as one such opportunity for small farms?

When I was a legislator, I was an early supporter of industrial hemp and sponsored legislation as early as 2012, and also the subsequent SB50 framework.  As Commissioner, my office has built Kentucky into an epicenter for hemp cultivation and processing.  I am proud that hundreds of jobs exist today that did not exist when I took office due to our leadership on hemp.  Today, my office approved over 1000+ farmers and 110+ hemp companies for 2019.  I was proud to have aided with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill which legalized the crop and currently, I chair the hemp working group at the national level.  I am currently aiding USDA with developing the national framework.  Hemp gives Kentucky the chance to be 1st in something instead of last.  We are also looking at kenaf as a biomass, have 16 commercial hops growers in KY, and are putting more KY corn into KY bourbon than ever before.  Additionally, we support conservation efforts and work closely with NRCS to encourage farmers to adopt conservation practices.  As for medical marijuana, we are focused on taking hemp as far as we possibly can in 2019 because our hemp farmers asked me to do that when I took office.

Question 7: 

As Commissioner of Agriculture, how will you support small farmers impacted by structural changes in Kentucky’s agriculture and energy economies?

Kentucky agriculture is all about the small farmer.  Of our 76,000 farms, 95% of them are owned and operated by Kentucky farm families.  Growing up on a small family farm, I know first hand the needs of small farmers.  As Commissioner, we will continue to protect 50% of Tobacco Settlement monies for the purpose of diversifying KY agriculture.  As Commissioner, I vote and support our Ag Development Fund, KY Ag Finance new & beginning farmer loan program, and FSA loan programs.  I have also put emphasis on our growing Farmers' Market community, growing organic farm program, and have advocated for policies that are inclusive of all farm sizes. All of these programs support small farmers.  Additionally, we intentionally draft all farm legislation so that it benefits small farmers too, as evidence with the new grain indemnity fund.  Also, the hemp program is designed to support small farmers from any part of the state as well.  With nearly 8000 members, Kentucky Proud continues to be a strong marketing tool for small farmers to utilize across our Commonwealth.  In conclusion, I understand the needs of small farmers because I grew up as one. As Commissioner, I am proud of my record and will continue to be a relentless advocate for our Kentucky farm families.