Robert Haley Conway

Political party: 
Democrat
Question 1: 

What is your vision for the role of the Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture? How will our commonwealth be better in four years if you are elected?

Office to become more accessible. Depoliticize the nature of the office. Understand that the needs of the 21st century demand that change is required. Step outside the box. Make family farms profitable again. Since the average farm size is between 100-200 acres in Kentucky, it becomes necessary to maximize the acreage available and become more efficient. We need to look at agriculture in this state in a new way. We need to understand that our natural resources and landforms should dictate the type of agriculture we undertake. We no longer have the safety net that was provided by tobacco. We need to become more diverse, look at alternative ag practices, and embrace change (i.e. nurseries, orchards, hemp to some degree, tree farms, aquiculture).

Question 2: 

How does your background qualify you for serving in this office? Please provide examples.

8th generation Kentucky farmer. We have an Angus cow-calf operation and have had since the tobacco buy-out. Current farm operation consists of my son and myself. We currently have over 70 head which is max for the acreage available. I am a retired executive for GE Capital, controlling a 300 employee and 30 million dollar budget. Was board member and board chair for Scot County Schools, with roughly 1800 employees and a budget of $62 million per year. The second largest employer in Scott County, second to Toyota's North American Auto Plant. I have been involved in agriculture my adult life, and currently am a sitting member of the Scott County Soil and Water Conservation Board. Also belong to KY Farm Bureau, former Director of the KY Motor Transportation Association of Kentucky, Beef Cattle Assoc., and Scott County Beef Cattle Association.

Question 3: 

If elected, how would you use this office to advance equity among farmers and farmworkers in Kentucky? How would you increase the numbers of farms owned by black farmers after decades of racially biased refusal of farm loans? How would you protect the rights of migrant workers, such as those coming to Kentucky with H2A visas, and ensure that farmers are honoring the contracts they sign with these workers?

The same as getting young people involved in farming. We need to bring the lenders and borrowers together and create a program where people have access and accessibility to the info and funds. There are programs already available, but due to the lack of info, don't know where to go or how to access those monies currently designated for minority or youth programs. There needs to be more oversight by state government to ensure those funds are used and dispensed in a proper fashion. The same applies to H2A visas. We, in KY, are dependent on migrant workers and farmers should embrace and appreciate the opportunity to bring those workers to Kentucky. There should be an office in the Commissioner's staff that should deal solely with infringement of rights in the Ag sector.

Question 4: 

Many farmers in southwestern Kentucky installed sizable solar energy systems, thanks in part to programs offered by the Tennessee Valley Authority. What will you do as Commissioner of Agriculture to enable more small farms across the Commonwealth to generate and benefit from renewable energy?

Absolutely strong supporter of solar energy systems. Make more money and effort available to promote this agenda. It only makes sense.

Question 5: 

Given that many Kentuckians face challenges in accessing fresh foods, a number of programs exist in Kentucky to support food access for low-income communities, like Kentucky Double Dollars and the WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs. As Commission of Agriculture, how would you support these and similar programs to help Kentucky’s small farms provide healthy and affordable products to more Kentuckians? What role will you play in addressing the many food deserts across Kentucky?

No Kentuckian should go hungry. As a 12 year member of a school district located in what many perceive to be Kentucky's wealthiest county, we still had a rate of over 40% of school age children on free and reduced lunch. Poverty still persists and is very evident throughout the state. We need to do whatever it takes to correct this unacceptable problem. First thing would be to get out of the office and see what it takes to make positive change occur. Give incentives to small local farms to grow produce by directing them to markets for their products. While we here in Kentucky have had some success with the "Kentucky Proud" program, it really hasn't filtered down to your average small Kentucky producer.

Question 6: 

The legalization of industrial hemp offers new opportunities to Kentucky family farmers. What other opportunities will you seek out to make farming more sustainable and how will you advance these opportunities equitably and sustainably? Do you support  the legalization of medical marijuana as one such opportunity for small farms?

Just returned from an Ag conference in Denver, CO. Alternative Ag programs were being touted, such as nurseries, wind, solar, tree farms (i.e. Christmas and nursery stock), hemp. While the future looks promising with hemp, whether it be for medicinal, recreational, fiber or seed, based on what has happened since Congress passed the Farm Bill, legalizing industrial use of hemp, I am somewhat concerned. Big Tobacco has moved into the industry the last 90 days positioning themselves to be a player which concerns me about the impact on small producers. We could be looking at Tobacco Program II if they have their way. I absolutely support the legalization of medical marijuana for small farms.

Question 7: 

As Commissioner of Agriculture, how will you support small farmers impacted by structural changes in Kentucky’s agriculture and energy economies?

This is why I'm running. Support for small farms and trying to attract young people into agriculture.