Kentucky Seeks Economic Impact Study

No one in Kentucky knows exactly how many horses or farms make up what is now the state's number one agricultural industry, but the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, in partnership with some of the state's equine leaders, hopes to change that.

At a recent KDA-sponsored equine summit, participants took the first steps toward commissioning an economic impact study to collect statistics that could quantify the scope of the horse industry.

"The secret is out," said Billy Ray Smith, the state commissioner of agriculture. "It's the largest industry in our state. For a long time tobacco was number one, but now it is number three. We want to see what we can do to enhance the equine industry."

Without specific numbers, particularly dollar figures, members of the equine industry have a hard time lobbying state representatives for changes in legislation or funding because they can't back up evidence of their contributions.

"If we can tell our legislators we're a $3 billion or $4 billion industry, that gets their attention," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. "We dearly need an economic impact study because now, when we go in front of our legislators, we're using a 1991 study."

Switzer, Thoroughbred breeder and Fayette County Farm Bureau president Frank Penn, and others also called for horses to be treated as an agricultural crop so goods and services purchased in the course of conducting business would not be taxed.

Currently, Kentucky cattle farmers buying feed or fencing do not pay sales tax on those supplies. However, horse owners pay 6% on all of those items. The tax could also apply to stud fees.

Switzer said stallion seasons are not taxed in Florida or New York, which puts Kentucky stallion owners at a disadvantage.

Switzer proposed the Kentucky Farm Bureau's Equine Advisory Committee and the Kentucky Horse Council lay the groundwork for the study, with assistance from the other representatives present at the summit. Quarter Horses, Saddlebreds, the USA Equestrian, the Department of Commerce, and the Farm Bureau all had representatives at the meeting. Owners of pleasure horses and trail ride operators were also present.