Candid Conversation with Renee Carrico, KFB Livestock and Environmental Field Specialist

Posted on May 4, 2021
Renee Carrico, KFB Livestock and Environmental Field Specialist

KFB Candid Conversation presents a discussion about the topical issues related to KFB priorities, the agricultural industry, and rural communities, in a question and answer format. In this column, Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation’s newest member, Renee Carrico discusses her role as Livestock and Environmental Field Specialist and some of the things she will be doing in this new position.

First, welcome to the KFB family. Would you mind sharing a little about yourself and some of your previous roles?

Thank you so much, I’m very excited to join the team. A little about me, I grew up in Princeton, Kentucky on our small family farm where we ran stocker cattle and raised show pigs. With both parents working off farm jobs in university extension, the five kids found ourselves involved in many livestock and youth development programs over the years that led me to want to pursue a career in agriculture. I attended the University of Kentucky and obtained degrees in Animal Sciences and Agricultural Economics. Upon graduation, I accepted a role with Corteva AgriSciences as the PhytoGen Cottonseed and Mycogen seeds territory manager in the North Delta of Mississippi. Fast forward 3 years and a lot of prayers later, we realized Kentucky was calling me home. I made the move back and worked as a project manager at the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy in Frankfort until the end of March when I was blessed to have the opportunity to take on this new role at Kentucky Farm Bureau. My husband and I now reside in Springfield, Kentucky about a mile from the family cow-calf operation we help manage with goals of purchasing a farm of our own one day.   

You have been involved in agriculture all of your life. What are some of the changes you have seen over the years, from a family farm perspective?

Kentucky farms, and family farms in general, never cease to amaze me with their ingenuity and resilience as the industry, consumer demand and markets change. Over my lifetime I have sadly seen the decline in tobacco contracts, which truly shaped many of the rural communities we have today. However, this change has pushed many to diversify and have new on-farm revenues that few people would’ve guessed would be sustainable 20 years ago. The local foods movement has done nothing but grow, whether that be farmers market sales, Agri-tourism or local brands in major retail chains, the consumers demand to know where their food comes from seems like it is here to stay. Seeing so many family farms embrace this change has been one of the most significant changes I have seen in my lifetime.    

In your opinion, how important is Kentucky’s livestock sector to the overall success of our agriculture industry?

I may be a bit biased, but I truly believe Kentucky’s livestock sector is vital and absolutely essential for the Kentucky agriculture industry. Our state is so diverse with many acres suitable for a variety of agriculture practices, however, there are still many acres that aren’t suitable for row crops. How lucky are we to have a strong livestock industry to utilize those acres? Livestock and crops truly work hand in hand. Livestock can utilize by-products/co-products of the ethanol industry, soybean processing plants, and distilleries as in feed rations. These facilities are able to build and expand in our state not only due to the volume of grain we produce but also the amount of livestock available to help utilize these by-products and lessen costs of disposal/waste. The diversity of Kentucky’s agricultural landscape truly aids in the growth of all sectors of the industry.

Livestock and Environmental Field Specialist is a new position at KFB. What are some of the things you will be doing in your role at the organization?

That’s a great question that we are honestly still working through. The main goal is for this role to serve as livestock and environmental specific liaison between members and the KFB state office. As situations arise locally, in Frankfort or in D.C. we want our members to have a direct link to know where KFB policy stands and find out what more we can do. I also would like to be a source of information for producers across the state. 2020 was a tough year and although we stayed in touch as much as possible through Zooms and Webinars, what we have missed is being on farms and learning what others are doing around the state. There have been improvements by so many in marketing their local meats, upgrades to processing facilities, improved finishing barns, and the list goes on. My goal is to be a dispatcher of information to producers across the state. Many times what works in Eastern Kentucky can work in Western Kentucky but connecting those producers is what is needed to start the conversation to make it happen. That being said, my favorite word in my title is “field” which gives me the option to constantly be out and on farms finding out what members needs are and finding ways to address them.    

Do we still find that most family farms in Kentucky have some form of livestock on their farms, as part of their operations, and if so, what do you see as the importance of that?

It’s funny you ask this because I was just telling someone this week how I keep learning about crop and produce farmers I have known for years have added cattle, sheep, or poultry barns to their farm. From a farm family perspective, I will always say I learned more from caring for animals than almost anything I did growing up. Understanding an animal’s needs, addressing the diet, managing the forages; there are just so many life skills to be learned while caring for your livestock. I would also note that it keeps our farmers connected to all aspects of the industry. High crop prices many times mean lower cattle and hog prices and vice versa. Having livestock on the farm whether they are the primary enterprise or not, keeps us informed and aware of how each sector of the industry is connected and spreads out risk for the entire operation.   

Kentucky has seen marked growth in its livestock sector over the past two decades, especially with beef cattle. What do you see in the future for this sector, more specifically, how do we keep that momentum moving forward?

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing. I have seen multiple groups over the last year post the question “What do you need as a beef cattle producer to better your operation?” and the number 1 answer is always marketing. Kentucky’s cattle quality has improved tremendously over the last 20 years, which can be attributed to so many things including KADF cost-share programs, hands-on extension staff and markets developing and promoting special sales for their producers. However, all of these groups hear the producer’s push to take a step further. Some county groups are doing this through comingling of cattle and marketing in larger groups to obtain the additional dollars. Others are retaining ownership through the feedlots, while still others see the demand for local foods warrants a large-scale processing facility and feedlot structure within our state. I personally see power in all of these options. The question is how do we strike a balance and help those across the state take home those additional dollars without excluding a type or size operation in our state? What helps one size producer doesn’t always help another. This state is blessed in that our state agriculture groups are willing to sit around a table together to hear out producer needs and help take steps forward. I believe to keep the momentum moving forward will be continuing to bring these groups together. It has been over a year now since some of these ideas have been hashed out across a table in person. A lot has changed and happened in that time and I know many are itching to get back, hear the updated information and keep working to enhance markets for our livestock producers.    

Speaking of beef, May is Beef Month and many promotional events are taking place across the country. What is your message to those folks who are both on and off the farm, about our beef cattle industry in Kentucky?

I urge those both on and off farm to remember that the juicy hamburger you eat during Louisville Burger Week or that celebratory New York Strip you grilled during this warm weather is the product of year-round animal care and hard work by farmers across the state you reside in. Kentucky farmers are doing more to produce the highest quality animals and products with the least environmental impacts than ever before. Farmers find a way to share your story and tell people why you love what you do. Consumers, meet your local farmers, ask them questions and learn where your food comes from, you may be surprised by how practical and relatable the ag community truly is.