by Kathleen Adams
The dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky told several Kentucky lawmakers the school's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center is overburdened and under-funded.
"Quite frankly, we are not the best equine diagnostic center and we should be," dean Scott Smith told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Horse Farming Oct. 8 in Ohio County. The eight legislators are traveling throughout the state in between legislative sessions to listen to the concerns of rural residents as well as those who work within Kentucky's agriculture industry.
"We became aware of our limitations during the mare reproductive loss syndrome outbreak," Smith said.
Smith also said results from a survey conducted recently by the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center indicate there is an extremely high demand for lab services, and that fee schedules are too low. Currently, in some cases, no fees are being assessed at the facility.
"We have some concerns that the lab is being used as a carcass-disposal service," Smith said.
Smith said fee schedules are a thorny issue because if it becomes too expensive, producers, or horse owners, won't bring their animals in to the center. "The primary reason we want a fee schedule is to provide better services so we can alert horse farms to outbreaks, not the other way around," he said.
Others that testified before the subcommittee included Dr. Bob Lawrence of the University of Louisville Equine Industry Program. He told lawmakers it's often a challenge to enroll students in the program.
"A lot of 18-year-olds are more interested in horses than in the horse business," Lawrence said. "Another challenge is maintaining funding. We know with budgetary constraints, it isn't going to be easy to maneuver in Frankfort. But (horses are) our most important agricultural crop."
Though nearly all of those who testified before the subcommittee made subtle pleas for additional funds, most indicated they knew they were fighting an uphill battle given Kentucky's multimillion-dollar budget deficit. Still, Dr. Richard Wilcke, whose specialty at the University of Louisville Equine Industry Program is incentive programs, urged legislators to continue to support the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, which hands out $10 million in open races to Kentucky-bred horses.
"From our standpoint, it is a very positive program," Wilcke said. "To stimulate growth and improve the breed, you must increase purses."
But without a fair and accurate count of all the horses that reside in Kentucky, it may be nearly impossible to determine just what economic impact equines have on the state. Deborah Lancaster, who works in the Office of Strategic Planning for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, testified the University of Kentucky received $20,000 from her office to "get an accurate number of horses in the state."
Lancaster said it was the first time such a study had been conducted in Kentucky. But she also said more than $20,000 would be needed to capture the full range of the horse industry in the state.
Last year, Kentucky took in $800 million in stud fees, according to Tony Moreno, director of international marketing for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. "Many would say we're the industry leaders," he said. "Others would say our lead is shortening."
In order for Kentucky horse farmers to remain competitive on the worldwide market, new international relationships will need to be forged Moreno said.
"The cost of this program I think would be minimal."
But Moreno told lawmakers the cost of doing nothing to remedy the situation could be higher. For instance, tariff barriers exist between the United States and several countries that Kentucky horse farms do business with. Among them is a $40,000 import fee placed on horses sold to Japan.