By Chad Hobbs
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff, Keith Rogers, is no stranger to Meade County or the hard work it took to get a grain elevator here in the first-place years ago. The Hardin County native, serving at that time as the district director for Congressman Ron Lewis, says they helped get the $750,000 in government funds that helped build the road to where Consolidated Grain and Barge was located. Then, moving into the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy under Governor Ernie Fletcher, Rogers was there when the original $2 million of Ag Development Funds were issued to help fund that original CGB venture in Brandenburg.
“So, this elevator, being a neighbor in Hardin County, has been part of things I’ve worked on for dang near 20 years now I guess,” Rogers explained. “It’s something that I am passionate about. It’s not just something that I am coming down from Frankfort about and speaking to you and turning around and going back home because I live next door in Hardin County.”
Last October was when local farmers were blindsided by the announcement that CGB would be closing as part of the Nucor deal. Though the governor would later laugh and say his office had known the grain elevator had to go for a long time, this wasn’t the case in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture which was left in the dark as well.
“Larry Thomas (a Hardin County farmer) was the first phone call I received in early October that this was going on,” Rogers said. “WE were not aware of what was happening with GB until early October when many of you all first started finding out what was going to happen.”
Rogers says he came down here last fall for a meeting and came back again when one of the companies looking to possibly replace CGB as Meade County’s future grain elevator toured the sites where a new granary could be built. He has also been a part of many phone calls, trying to help bring about a deal with one of the two companies that are currently looking at the prospects of locating here.
“We have been playing a supporting role to David (Pace) and local officials about what we can offer, what we can support and making the connections in Frankfort we need to make in in trying to make sure we move this as quickly as possible, knowing that last fall and even into January and February that everything we needed to do was for fall 2021,” Rogers stated. “And you all know, I don’t have to tell you, if you tried to buy a grain bin lately, we are running out of time for 2021 real quick.”
This is why Rogers says it has become so critical to do everything possible to move this project forward. He says there is no doubt in his mind that COVID has slowed the whole process down. After some good advances with the companies in the first few months of 2020, that all ground to a halt with the pandemic and shut down. Both companies went on lock down, halting any travel to the county. Rogers says he feels confident they are also looking at what effect this is going to have on them long term and the effects it has had on the market place.
He says that part of the job in a supporting role is to make sure the companies are aware of the history in Kentucky, the Ag Development Fund, the Economic Development Cabinet, the relationship that agriculture in this state, whether it be Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture or any of the commodity groups such as the Corn or Soybean Growers Associations, make sure they understand that in Kentucky when it comes to agriculture we work together.
“That is a positive message that Kentucky can talk about that a lot of states can’t, and this goes back to, for some of you who have been around for a while, to AG 2000 back in the 1990s or the two strategic plans that we have developed for agriculture over the last 15 years or so for the state of Kentucky,” Rogers said. “Those things have united Kentucky agriculture like no other state can talk about and because of that, I think, we had quick attention from these companies and quick interest to look at us.”
He said that the latest report he could give is that in late July, he along with Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles took part in a conference call with one of the companies that Rogers feels like has the best chance of locating here. They walked the company through all the state could offer, the Ag Development Fund and provided all the documents and information that would need to be followed up on.
“That is the information that I believe that they are now sifting through, trying to decide what they are going to attempt to do,” Rogers explained. “These companies, of course this is a major investment at a time when the economy and our society is quite frankly in a lot of fluidity, a lot of uncertainty, and I think they are taking their due diligence and their due time.”