Kentucky’s agriculture and manufacturing sectors may have never experienced a time when the similarities between the two seemingly disparate pieces of the economy have been more obvious.
Those who grow crops or raise animals for food and those who make automobile parts or other products are now facing the same challenges, according to industry leaders who took part in Wednesday’s LAND (Linking Agriculture for Networking and Development) forum at Western Kentucky University’s L.D. Brown Ag Expo Center.
“Agriculture and manufacturing are dealing with a major workforce problem,” said Lee Lingo, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers. “Nobody can find workers. We both also have supply chain issues, with shortages of truck drivers and a shortage of raw materials. The last 18 months have been the most unprecedented period of supply chain problems that I can remember.”
That problem has hit home in Bowling Green, where such high-profile manufacturers as the General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant and Bowling Green Metalforming have been forced to temporarily halt production more than once in recent months.
Like those factories, farms and businesses like restaurants that sell agricultural products have also been affected by the supply chain and workforce issues.
“The slightest disruption can cause havoc for agriculture,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said during Wednesday’s forum. “Like manufacturing, farms need a workforce that’s qualified and will show up.”
Quarles said Kentucky, with its diversity of crops and livestock, is well-positioned to meet the demand for those products throughout the country and internationally, but the supply chain issues related to meat processing that have cropped up during the coronavirus pandemic have hampered growth.
“One thing we’re doing now is looking at the supply chain issues with meat processing,” said Quarles, a Republican who has been agriculture commissioner since 2016 and has said he is considering a run for governor in 2023.
The shortage of meat processing capacity prompted the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board to launch the Meat Processing Investment Program, which has invested more than $4 million in small processing plants.
Among those taking advantage of that program are startup meat processors in Logan and Warren counties.
Quarles cited such startups as examples of how cooperation between agriculture and manufacturing can benefit the state’s economy.
“I challenge you to connect to one another,” he told the crowd of some three dozen people representing both manufacturing and agriculture.
The LAND forum in Bowling Green was the first of five to be held across the state, with others scheduled during August and September in Henderson, Maysville, Jackson and Shelbyville.
An event brochure said the forums are intended to “bolster existing collaboration between agriculture and manufacturing.”
– More information about the LAND forums can be found at the kam.us.com website.
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.