Did you know the commissioner of agriculture is in charge of gas pumps? Neither did we

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The Kentucky commissioner of agriculture is an elected state executive position tasked with protecting and promoting the state’s farming industry. Those elected serve for four years and are limited to two terms.

“As commissioner of agriculture I helped expand markets for our family farms, support our farmers’ markets, continue our growth of industrial hemp, grow ag related jobs and economic development,” said Ryan Quarles, interim commissioner of agriculture who is campaigning for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the May primary election. “I also supported conservation efforts and encouraged our young people to choose ag as a career through ag education & safety programs. It was also my job to protect against consumer fraud at our gas stations and expand international trade opportunities.”

The office-holder helms the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which directs activities and provides information for and about farming in Kentucky, one of the state’s largest industries. Other responsibilities include expanding agricultural markets, encouraging rural economic development and promoting Kentucky agricultural products.

William Snell, a professor at the University of Kentucky, describes the position as equal parts broad and important. The position, Snell said, provides leadership in the agricultural community among farmers, agribusinesses, and food consumers. Basically, everyone. 

“The ag commissioner works closely with farm organizations, universities, national, state and local policymakers and various agencies on all ag food related issues,” Snell said. “Other duties include education and promotion of Kentucky agriculture and its products domestically and abroad along with overseeing various regulatory duties ranging from checking weights and volumes, like gas pumps, to ensure safety on rides at amusement parks and county fairs.”

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Some of the main things Quarles said he has focused on as commissioner of agriculture are fighting hunger across the commonwealth. He also cited his work with 4-H, a youth development organization, and FFA, a youth leadership through agriculture organization.

“Our youth programs have flourished, our livestock safety protocols are maintained, and everyday Kentuckians have access to local, nutritious KY Proud produce, ” said Quarles.

The candidate that is elected will also be responsible for  promoting the Kentucky Proud program, which has a mission of cultivating a connection to Kentucky’s farms.

Commissioners of agriculture must be at least 30 years old and a resident of Kentucky for at least the last two years.

Now that you know what a Commissioner of Agriculture does, meet the candidates.

The Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture position is up for grabs in this next election after Ryan Quarles eight years in office.

The Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture is an elected state executive position in the Kentucky state government where they are elected to four-year terms and limited to serving two terms.

Candidates Sierra J. Enlow, Mikael Malone, Richard Heath and Jonathan Shell are in the running for the Commissioner of Agriculture seat.

The candidate who takes home the new title will be responsible for expanding agricultural markets, increasing rural economic development, and promoting the Kentucky Proud program, where they’ll be cultivating a connection to Kentucky’s Farms.

A theme of this year’s candidates are all being born and raised farmers. Shell, a Republican from Lancaster, still works on his family’s farm, Shell Farms and Greenhouses, as a fifth-generation farmer in Garrard County where they grow flowers, corn, pumpkins and raise cattle. His campaign touts him as “pro-life, pro-second amendment, pro-growth and pro-farmer.”

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Jonathan Shell. Photo provided | Jonathan Shell

Shell’s Republican opponent, Heath, also grew up on a farm and farmed to pay for his college. Heath ran the Graves County co-op where he built barns, tool sheds, and other buildings for farmers everyday.

“I’ve lived the farm life,” said Heath. “I know how important farming is to the Commonwealth.”

Richard Heath. Photo provided | Richard Heath

Enlow, a Democratic candidate from LaRue County, also knows what it’s like to live the farm life as she grew up on a multi-generation family farm. She later attended the University of Kentucky to pursue a degree in Community & Leadership Development and Agricultural Economics. She went on to receive her Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics in 2012.

Sierra J. Enlow. Photo provided | Sierra J. Enlow

Also in 2012, Shell was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, becoming the youngest member of the General Assembly. A year later, Shell’s colleagues elected him Kentucky’s first-ever Republican House Majority Floor Leader where he developed and executed legislative strategies leading to enactment of a Right to Work law, pro-life legislation, support for farmers and a crackdown on opioid traffickers.

A bit later in 2015, Heath, the six-term state representative and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, narrowly lost the GOP Primary for Commissioner. He now is campaigning with more of a focus on his experience in both farming and as an agricultural leader in Frankfort.

Just about 50 miles northwest from Heath’s work in Frankfort, lies Enlow’s work in Louisville with Louisville Forward and Greater Louisville, Inc where she developed strategies focused on supporting tech-enable businesses and co-working spaces as Louisville Metro Government adapted to the new economy of work.

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She currently serves on the board of directors for the Kentucky Association for Economic Development and serves as an economic development consultant to communities and companies as they evaluate opportunities to grow and expand.

Democratic candidate, Mikael Malone, is set to be on the ballot but was unavailable for comment and does not have a website.

The primary election will take place on May 16 and the general election will be on November 7 with the last day to register on October 10.

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