The important role agriculture plays in the economic development efforts of the west Kentucky river counties will be on full display at next week’s fourth annual WAVE Ag Day festivities.

WAVE (West Kentucky Alliance for a Vibrant Economy) is a joint initiative of Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman and McCracken counties, located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The 2021 WAVE Ag Day festivities will be at the Hickman riverfront in Fulton County July 22.

A farmer’s appreciation breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. with the program beginning at 9 a.m. The keynote speaker is Richard Fordyce, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency administrator. Also participating will be Ryan Quarles, Kentucky agriculture commissioner; Tony Brannon, Murray State University Hutson School of Agriculture; and Brian Lacefield, Kentucky Office of Agriculture Policy executive director.

“What this (Ag Day) does is bring the agri-businesses and farmers together to talk about their needs, their wants and how we can support and help each other,” said Steven Edler, WAVE Ag consultant, who will serve as master of ceremonies.

WAVE initially began as a four-county effort between Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton and Hickman counties. McCracken County was later added to continue the collaboration and overall economic development effort in the region.

“Agriculture is the backbone of the river counties. We look at the census data that tells us how much in seeds we bought, how much fertilizer we bought, how much livestock sales were, how many bushels of soybeans we sold,” Elder said.

“You add all that up (from the four initial counties), it’s like $370 million. That’s how much money flows in and out of our counties, in and out of our farmers’ pockets, in and out of our banks and agri-businesses, that is the economic engine. Agriculture is a big part of the economy and we want to continue celebrating that.”

Fordyce currently serves as the business growth director for Osborn Barr Paramore, an agriculture industry marketing company headquartered in St. Louis.

“I grew up in a county of only 8,500 people. My high school had 69 people. Maybe six or eight of us stayed around,” Fordyce said.

“So, I understand WAVE Ag’s mission to focus on retaining the youth and providing economic opportunities with the river counties.”

Fordyce served as U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency administrator from May 2018 to January 2021. In that role, he provided leadership for FSA and its mission to support agricultural production nationwide. He is a fourth-generation soybean, corn and beef cattle farmer from Missouri.

WAVE’s focus on agriculture and economic development opportunities is not limited to the borders of Kentucky.

“We want to work with southern Illinois and southeast Missouri and northwest Tennessee,” Elder said. “This is a focal point for us all. There’s only one spot in the world where the Mississippi and Ohio come together at the confluence.”

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