Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

July 14, 2011

Ag committee discusses hot topics

Eastern bankruptcy, animal disposal lead

By AMANDA LOVIZA
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — The Kentucky Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture met Wednesday at Farmers Livestock Market in Glasgow to discuss two difficult issues that have been especially close to the hearts of local farmers — the Eastern Livestock bankruptcy case and dead animal disposal.

Once a year, the chairman of the joint committee is able to choose a location within his district to hold a meeting, and co-chair Sen. David Givens said choosing Glasgow gave him “the opportunity to better showcase Glasgow and Barren County and southcentral Kentucky.”

Enough senators and representatives were present to declare a quorum, and the meeting started with the acknowledgement of committee members’ guests and members of the local government in attendance. Glasgow Mayor Rhonda Trautman, Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer, Scottsville Mayor Robbie Cline and Glasgow City Councilman Doug Isenberg were present, as well as representatives of several Kentucky politicians. With opening business out of the way, State Veterinarian Robert Stout began the meeting’s discussions with a topic that continues to upset farmers in Barren County and the surrounding area, the Eastern Livestock bankruptcy case.

“I wish there was more to report about the (Eastern Livestock) situation,” Stout said. “There’s not a whole lot of new information, but I will say we’ve kept in touch (with those involved).”

Although Stout didn’t have any new activity to report, he led a lengthy discussion about the ongoing bankruptcy case, in which local farmers lost thousands of dollars when they got bad checks in return for cattle at the livestock market in November 2010. Stout talked about how “forensic accounting” is being used to figure out the intricacies of Eastern Livestock’s finances and who was hurt when the company went bankrupt.

“I think there are still questions out there about who owns what and who gets what,” Stout said.

One state representative asked that if the bond tied up in the bankruptcy case was regulated by the federal government, does the federal government now have a responsibility to help pay back the farmers, because of a lack of oversight before the bad checks were written. Stout told the assembly that he would take that question to the attorney general’s office and see what can be done.

Gary Bell, a local farmer who lost $14,280 to Eastern Livestock in November, called the actions of the company “theft by deception,” and said it was no different than if someone had backed a truck up to his corral and stolen his cattle, except in this case he couldn’t get restitution. He brought up several questions as he spoke to the crowd, and asked why it seemed that the bank was going to be paid back but not likely the farmers would be.

“It seems unfair to me that the 5/3 Bank or any other lending institution would profit from the poisonous fruit of that cattle,” Bell said.

Givens updated the assembled on the progress of Senate Bill 94, which was modeled after a piece of Oklahoma legislation passed after the Eastern Livestock case hurt Oklahoma farmers. SB94 will enforce a new agriculture livestock lien policy that will give the farmers a lien on their cattle until they receive payment for the animals, so the Eastern Livestock situation will not be repeated.

While the Eastern Livestock discussion didn’t provide a lot of reassurance to local farmers that they will get the money owed them, it did bring many up to speed on the case and provided some new questions that Stout will pursue with the attorney general’s office to try to help farmers affected in the case.

After Stout stepped down, the committee moved on to discuss dead animal disposal, which has been a struggle in Barren County for the last several years.

Steve Coleman, director of the Kentucky Division of Conservation, discussed the different ways to get rid of dead cattle in Kentucky. Most Kentucky counties are trying to move away from rendering into composting, although some still have animals taken to landfills. Committee co-chairman Rep. Tom KcKee told Coleman his home county has a company that picks up animals and takes them to a landfill, and he asked if the county needs to be looking for a better alternative. Coleman said it’s different for every county.

“I don’t think there’s one solution,” Coleman said. “I think it’s really up to the local communities to determine what’s best for them.”

Stout went over the regulations involved in composting an animal, including fees and permits and facility requirements. For Shannon White, solid waste coordinator for Barren County, none of the discussion was new and it wasn’t particularly helpful in finding an efficient solution to dead animal disposal in Barren County.

“It’s basically the same talk we’ve been hearing for quite some time,” White said, who has gone before Barren County Fiscal Court multiple times to discuss dead animal disposal, but the lack of budget always puts a halt to the discussion. “I think the county site would be the best option, but money is going to drive that.”

Stout’s emphasis during his discussion was the importance of doing composting correctly. A farm or general site must be licensed to compost, and there is a $25 annual fee, although Stout was open to the possibility of abolishing the fee. Composting is not complicated and not particularly expensive, Stout said, but “the preparation and maintenance of the compost pile is key.”

“I think composting has a lot of potential,” Stout said. “It’s good technology when done properly.”

The last topic of discussion was a brief presentation by Rep. Ryan Quarles about one representative’s push to have tobacco products removed from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. Quarles discussed the importance of globalization for the Kentucky agricultural market, and urged the assembly to make sure tobacco was not removed from the free trade agriculture export industry. To start carving out individual products would be a “slippery slope,” Quarles said.

“The goal here is to recognize that tobacco continues to be a legal product both consumed and produced here in Kentucky,” he said.

The joint committee passed a unanimous motion to draft a letter opposing the free trade exclusion proposal.

Givens said he was pleased with the meeting and the assembly’s ability to hammer out two very pertinent topics in agriculture. The turnout was great both with locals who attended and legislators. The joint committee often doesn’t achieve quorum at interim meetings, Givens said, but that was not a problem Wednesday.

“I was very pleased with the turnout and the hospitality of the community,” Givens said.

The Joint Committee on Agriculture will go back into session in January, which will be a 60-day budget session.