Agriculture Commissioner Jonathan Shell on the next four years

Published 1:18 pm Friday, January 19, 2024

Newly elected Agricultural Commissioner Jonathan Shell wakes up earlier and earlier every day to get to work.

Shell, who easily defeated his Democratic opponent with 59% of the vote, said that he’s excited to take on his new role.

As a former state legislator—the first Republican House speaker and youngest ember of the General Assembly at the time—Shell has strong relationships with the legislature.

“I feel like that is one of my strengths that I have is the relationships that I’ve been able to build to ensure that whenever agriculture needs something that we’ve got the relationships put in place to get it done,” he said in an interview with the Daily News.

Thinking ‘outside the box’

Shell said that the state of Kentucky agriculture is “really strong.”

“We’re kind of at that point of plateauing or going up,” he said. “And I think that what my role is going to be specifically in Kentucky agriculture is to put a laser focus on rural and economic development for this department.”

Shell shared a few ways he plans to achieve that.

First, he wants to look at the overall infrastructure of Kentucky agriculture, looking for where there are deficiencies.

He’s also looking for places where there are opportunities for private sector investment that might create new markets for farmers to sell their products.

Second, Shell would like to convene all of the state’s commodity association groups, with a focus on being more business-friendly.

Third, he said he wants to get Kentucky farmers’ fresh, health, nutritious food to more vulnerable populations, including individuals on Medicaid and food stamps.

For example, Shell is working with hospital associations across the state to get Kentucky food into the hospital systems, to both improve patients’ recovery efforts and expand the market for Kentucky farmers.

Hospitals aren’t the only destination Shell is thinking about sending Kentucky products. He also mentioned getting local food into schools, jail systems and nursing homes.

“We do a lot of ad hoc things right now—one farmer directly to one business—but what I want to do is look at it from an industry-wide whole to see if there’s a way that we can do it in a mass way, more of an industrial way to get in more mass distribution into places,” Shell said.

Fight against federal regulation

One of the key parts of Shell’s campaign was his promises to fight against federal overreach impacting Kentucky farmers.

These regulations include the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which defines which waterways the agency can regulate.

Shell said that Kentucky farmers would rather be left alone.

“They don’t really want the government to do anything for them, they’re just worried about what the government’s gonna do to them,” he said.

One of the regulations Shell is looking at now is ESG, an investment strategy that includes environmental, social and governance concerns in investments.

Several Republican candidates for office, including Auditor Allison Ball and Treasurer Mark Metcalf, spoke out against ESG policies during their campaigns.

For this effort, Shell is signing onto letters and working with national groups to push back against ESG.

Kentucky Proud

Kentucky Proud is one of the strongest brands of any state, Shell said. But Kentucky has to continue to adapt to keep up.

“Things have changed, are changing rapidly every single day, especially from a social media, from a technological standpoint,” he said.

“And so looking at Kentucky Proud and some of the ways in which we can create greater value for the participants, whether it be the consumer or the producer, is something that we’re laser focused on right now.”

One method is using influencers for new marketing schemes, Shell said.

This method would meet consumers where they are, and show them the value of the products Kentucky has to offer.

Secondary agriculture jobs

Shell wants to bring more secondary agriculture jobs, like processing, to Kentucky.

For example, Kentucky is good at raising cattle, but most cattle leave Kentucky to be processed before ending up on grocery store shelves.

Shell wants to have conversations with state and local cattlemen’s associations and beef farmers about how Kentucky might regionalize processing and educate farmers on the best methods.

Working with Beshear

Shell said that he won’t be “hand-tied” by Gov. Andy Beshear, but that he thinks they can work together to make Kentuckians’ lives better.

“We’ll work with the governor where we can,” he said. “I think on economic development, healthcare issues, specifically on nutrition, I think are places that we can work with this governor on if he’s willing to work with us.”