In an era when manufacturing jobs are still prized as a path to the middle class, it’s easy to forget the state’s roots in agriculture.

But the state’s strategic plan for agriculture and a whole host of other organizations around the state wants to remind us otherwise.

It’s a good thing, too, because family farms provide us with vegetables at farmers markets, grow grain to feed the livestock that end up as steaks or chicken breasts on our plate and produce the milk that goes on our cereal or in our coffee each day.

Kentucky’s agriculture industry contributes billions of dollars every year to the state’s economy. And the state has found areas to pick up where tobacco left off.

Tobacco was formerly a $1 billion a year contributor to the economy. Now, that has declined to about $325 million a year. Poultry now is at the top of the list, contributing $952 million annually, with horses providing $800 million.

The state’s ag plan wants to see even further diversification in such areas as aquaculture, biomass production and cellulosic (or nongrain-based) ethanol production.

While there are still some skeptics, even among farmers, about the potential for hemp, we continue to think that production of industrial hemp could hold promise for marginal lands. Hemp worked well for us before and could again.

And even more important is the report’s recognition that value needs to be added to farm products that are grown here. That’s why the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce’s look at the food-related industry makes a lot of sense.

At least in Bowling Green, there are ongoing efforts to educate the public about agriculture’s importance. We have three active farmers markets in the summer, and the Bowling Green Community Farmers Market has kept up through the winter. The Community Farmers Market beginning this spring will have monthly farm tours and other educational outreaches to let consumers know where their food is grown.

Just last week, students at Western Kentucky University started talking about how they can get more local foods on campus and plans are under way for Food Day in the fall.

Many area schools in the region also have active FFA programs teaching young men and women about the agriculture industry. But it’s important that some of those same things that are imparted to FFA members also imbue our lawmakers on both the state and federal level.

It’s good to thank a farmer for what you’ve had to eat, but even better to tell a lawmaker that you are thankful for farmers.

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