Gov. Andy Beshear took several actions Wednesday to build America’s AgriTech capital in Kentucky’s Appalachian region.
“Our future is the reason that I ran for this office. I wanted to create a brighter, better future for all Kentuckians,” the governor said. “AgriTech: It is where our past meets our future, where a rich tradition of farming turns into one of innovation — of intellectual property, of scaling ideas to help a small family farm into the next multibillion-dollar industry.”
The international agreement group was brought together by AppHarvest, an innovative, certified B corporation which is creating one of the largest controlled environment agriculture facilities in the world. The agreement is committed to the creation of America’s AgTech capital in Appalachia.
“In Kentucky, we’re going to reopen and rebuild our economy even stronger than it was before COVID-19,” Beshear said. “Partnerships like this one highlight our state’s 21st century leadership and limitless potential. I can’t wait to see the AgriTech industry continue to grow in Eastern Kentucky, led by AppHarvest and other companies that are reimagining the future of farming.”
“This long-term partnership will add jobs and create a new signature industry for our Appalachian region,” said AppHarvest founder and CEO Jonathan Webb. “It also demonstrates the kind of international cooperation that we need more of on the national level.”
The guiding agreement calls for a series of research programs, construction of a center of excellence and the building of additional private infrastructure similar to AppHarvest’s 2.76 million-square-foot farm that opens this fall in Morehead. As part of the agreement, the partners also commit to opening a Dutch representative office in Kentucky to spur investment in the state by Dutch companies, which are recognized as the world’s AgriTech leaders.
Kentucky’s central geographic location provides a huge advantage in AgriTech: AppHarvest’s tomatoes can reach 70% of Americans in a day’s drive. That means fresher food and far less food waste as grocers benefit from the extended shelf life. Growing fruits and vegetables closer to where people eat them also helps prevent the frustrating supply issues that COVID-19 continues to reveal, caused by America’s increasing reliance on agricultural imports.
After World War II, food shortages crippled the Netherlands, inspiring the nation’s leaders to invest in agricultural innovation and design a more resilient food system. The country is now the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter, even with a land mass just one-third the size of Kentucky. Dutch technology sees farmers grow up to 30 times more fruits and vegetables on a single acre indoors compared with a single acre outdoors, all the while reducing water usage by 90%. In the Netherlands, more than 10,000 companies support every aspect of the agricultural economy, and the nation’s leaders have graciously shared their extensive expertise as Gov. Beshear and AppHarvest seek to build an equally robust ecosystem in Appalachia.
Over the past two years, multiple delegations of Kentucky representatives have visited the Netherlands to meet with nearly 20 cutting-edge leaders in the agriculture industry. Top Dutch officials also travelled to Kentucky to meet with Beshear as well as higher education and economic development officials.
“We didn’t reach this agreement overnight,” said Beshear. “It is the result of years of preparation and international cooperation, and I couldn’t be more grateful that each of these partners worked together to make it possible. The world is starting to recognize something Kentuckians have seen all along: our Appalachian region’s remarkable promise.”
Among the moves taken Wednesday, Beshear signed an international agreement with 16 partner organizations, including the Dutch government, that are committed to the same goal.
“Why has everybody gravitated to this effort? Because of our state. That willingness to work, from an area of the country that has been known for powering the United States: Eastern Kentucky,” Webb said. “We don’t believe that the future of farming in America is going to be in Boston, New York City or San Francisco. We believe the future of farming is going to be somewhere in the middle of the United States, and now it just takes leadership to determine who wants to grab it and go.”
The governor also established an AgriTech Advisory Council, which he will chair, to guide the commonwealth’s increased focus on this industry that will expand the state’s economy and create jobs for Kentuckians.
The advisory council includes Kentucky Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles and other leaders in state government and local government, education and the business and labor sectors in Kentucky. Members will convene periodically to meet with the governor and advise him on matters relating to the AgriTech industry.
He also announced the state has launched a new website highlighting AgriTech in Kentucky, agritech.ky.gov.
“This is a great day for Kentucky, but this is an especially unbelievable day for Eastern Kentucky: to see the diversification, rebuilding of an economy and a new economy we have never seen before,” said Rocky Adkins, senior advisor to the governor. “This is especially rewarding for all of us who have worked so long and so hard to build up a region of Kentucky that needs to be competitive in every shape and form and fashion.”