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Leadership Class takes on Ag Day

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By Rebecca Roscoe

Since 2005 the LaRue County Chamber of Commerce has sponsored the Leadership LaRue County program. Participants include employees and owners of local businesses and representatives of local agencies.

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The program begins with a two-day retreat in September and follows with monthly day sessions through May. One of the most prominent of these day sessions is the annual Agriculture Day, which includes visits to local farms and producers within the county.

“The Agriculture Day gives a more complete picture of LaRue County,” said Krista Levee, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “Agriculture is still a very important part of the county.”

David Harrison, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, led the groups at each farm.

“The main goal of the day is awareness,” Harrison said. “We want to make people aware of what our lead agricultural businesses are doing within the county and within the community.”

Last week, the group toured Lee’s Garden Center, Hinton Orchard and Farm Market, Shady Rest Farm and Fresh Start Farms.

Participants started at Lee’s Garden Center and proceeded to the Hinton Orchard and Farm Market, where they walked through the blossoming apple trees, and learned about the processes that the apples go through from germination to sale.

Owners Jeremy and Joanna Hinton said they have taken great strides to keep up with agricultural changes.

“The face of agriculture has changed a lot. It’s more of a business now,” Jeremy said.

The Leadership LaRue group was introduced to several changes that have occurred in recent years.

In the past, farmers had more leverage and fewer guidelines to regulate everything from equipment usage to the items they sold. However, farmers had less advanced and reliable equipment. Hinton said technology has helped reshape agricultural industry for the better, creating more reliable and “smart” tools for the farming community.

The Hinton’s as well as other farm families have added equipment with GPS technology to their repertoire, which automatically scans crops and administers chemicals – such as insecticides- when needed, to each section.

As participants learned about new regulations and innovations, such as GPS technology, on these local farms, they also learned that even though the farming industry has become more large scale, it still remains a family institution.

For instance, the Ragland family runs their business, Shady Rest Farm, with family at its center. Current owners Caleb and Leanne Ragland’s sons are the 10th generation since 1925.

Shady Rest Farm specializes in raising hogs, growing corn and soybeans. The corn and soybeans are grown to make feed for the hogs, creating a well balanced diet for them – high in protein.

“It’s hog heaven … they have all the feed and clean water to drink that they need. They have heat in the winter and AC in the summer,” said Caleb Ragland.

Some of Ragland’s sows were giving birth during the groups tour. Multiple “oh, look’s!” occurred with each new birth, as the Leadership LaRue class experienced what the Ragland family farm is all about.

The group concluded their in-depth behind the scenes experiences at Fresh Start Farms, home of Ryan and Misty Bivens. The Bivens family was awarded the American Farm Bureau Achievement Award earlier this year, based on farming operation and growth. Ryan Bivens gave the participants a tour of the grounds, even allowing them to climb into the seat of a large combine, comparable to the size of an army tank. Large equipment is necessary on a large farm; even though costly, it would be difficult to maintain farm production without it.

At 6,000 acres, Fresh Start Farms is the largest farm in the county, and Bivens believes that it is important that consumers know what goes on at the farm.

“I think it’s great that they have Leadership LaRue. Agriculture is a huge part of the economy…we want the public to know what we’re doing as farmers,” said Bivens.

This year’s Leadership LaRue class includes Kelly Clemens (Fort Knox Federal Credit Union), Rip Collins (LaRue County Schools), Angel French (former interim Chamber director), Sarah Graham (Sunrise Manor), David Harrison, Theresa Howard, Krista Levee, Gina Lewis (Lincoln National Bank), Beth Roberts (Elizabethtown Community and Technical College), John Schuler (Magnolia Bank), Melanie Wells (Melanie Wells Photography) and Misty Wilmoth.

The Leadership LaRue class project for this year is to revamp the State Fair booth.

For more information on Leadership LaRue, call the LaRue County Chamber of Commerce at 270-358-3411 or visit http://laruecountychamber.org/programs-benefits/.