State takes steps to mimic Dutch agritech success

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – To take advantage of the state’s sprawling and diverse agriculture and technology sectors, the state signed partnerships Wednesday to literally help grow both industries.

And using AppHarvest as the base, the effort could one day mean the kind of indoor farm operations that have made the Netherlands one of the world’s premier food producers.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced Wednesday signing an international agreement with 16 other partner organizations, including the Dutch government, a new AgriTech Advisory Council to guide increased focus on this industry, and the launch of a new website, Kentucky AgriTech: agritech.ky.gov.

The international agreement group was brought together by AppHarvest, 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 in making the announcement. “Partnerships like this one highlight our states 21st century leadership and limitless potential. I cant 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 agreement calls for a series of research programs, construction of a center of excellence and the building of additional private infrastructure similar to AppHarvests 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 an advantage in AgriTech: AppHarvests 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, Beshear said at Wednesday’s press event.

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 Kentucky 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 traveled 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.”

Signatories to the agreement include:

  • Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature & Food Quality (LNV), Directorate International Affairs
  • Commonwealth of Kentuckys Office of the Governor
  • Dutch AgriTech companies Dalsem, Signify, Certhon, Light4Food, Priva and Rijk Zwaan
  • The Netherlands HAS University of Applied Science and Fontys University of Applied Sciences
  • The University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, University of Pikeville, Eastern Kentucky University and Berea College
  • Dutch public-private network organization NLWorks
  • AppHarvest

Beshear will chair the new  Governors AgriTech Advisory Council, which will include leaders in state and local government, education and the business and labor sectors.

Membership includes:

  • The Governor (chair)
  • Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner
  • Executive Director of the Governors Office of Agriculture
  • President of the Council on Postsecondary Education
  • Secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet
  • Secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet
  • Secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development
  • Secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet
  • Two presidents of Kentucky public universities, to be appointed by the Governor
  • One city mayor of a city with a population of 50,000 or more people, to be appointed by the Governor
  • One city mayor of a city with a population of fewer than 50,000 people, to be appointed by the Governor
  • Two County Judge/Executives, to be appointed by the Governor
  • President of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, to be appointed by the Governor
  • Four members representing Kentucky businesses related to agriculture and agriculture technology, to be appointed by the Governor
  • Two members representing Kentucky labor and trade, to be appointed by the Governor

The Agritech website —  agritech.ky.gov  — will help visitors learn about opportunities in the industry, success stories in Kentucky and the state’s unique assets, Beshear said in a statement.

The site also lists a number of development programs offered by Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy and the Center for Economic Development. The site shares more information on Kentucky’s higher education institutions that offer research centers and academic departments in agriculture and engineering

Outlined on the site are several development programs to assist the AgriTech businesses. The programs include loans, grants, tax credits, seed capital investments, matching state funds and export support.

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