Eddie Warren has expanded and improved his beef cattle operation to make up for lost tobacco income with help from agricultural development money.

Warren is one of about 700 Madison County farmers who have benefited from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, county Extension Agent Brandon Sears said. The county has received $2.8 million in agricultural development funds since the program was launched in 2001, Sears said.

Many local farmers, like Warren, have invested the cost-share funds in cattle handling equipment and better bulls to improve their herd genetics. Many others have taken advantage of funding from the Kentucky Agricultural Relief Effort (K.A.R.E.) to build ponds, put up fencing and perform other on-farm improvement projects.

Warren has used agricultural development funds to share the cost of watering systems, cattle handling facilities, fencing, bulls and other improvements to his cattle operation.

Warren raised as much as 160,000 pounds of tobacco in the 1990s. But tobacco quotas were cut in 2000, and the quota system was eliminated before the 2005 growing season. Warren raised 50,000 pounds of tobacco in 2008.

“I went from strictly tobacco with a few cattle to focusing on doing a better job with cattle to make up for the loss of income from tobacco,” Warren said. “I basically had no facilities for cattle.” He said the agricultural development funds enabled him to make improvements in a short time span. Today Warren runs a 50-cow operation of mostly Angus cows.

The state established the K.A.R.E. program in March 2007 to make $8.5 million in agricultural development funds available for on-farm projects to help farmers affected by the 2007 drought. Crystal Renfro of the Madison County Conservation District said her office funded 48 K.A.R.E. applications for a total of $137,600 in 2008. Another 102 applications are pending.

Madison County farmers requested a total of $91,900 to enhance farm ponds, more than any other purpose, of which $21,500 has been funded. Projects for feeding equipment have received the most funding at $32,300, Renfro said. Those projects include commodity storage structures, hay wrappers, feed mixers and silage feeding and storage equipment.

“A lot of people were scared the city water supply would be cut off to livestock producers,” Renfro said. Her office has another 100 applications for water projects if more funding becomes available.

Renfro said the K.A.R.E. funding made it possible for Madison County farmers to make improvements to their operations such as farm ponds and fencing at a time when prices for fertilizer, lime and other inputs were escalating out of control. “When prices were so outrageous, they wouldn’t be able to do these projects unless they had this assistance,” Renfro said. With the agricultural development funds, “They are able to do what they need as opposed to what they can afford.”

Sears said Madison County’s tobacco production has fallen by 1,700 acres since 2004, the largest decline of any county in Kentucky.

Madison County was fourth in the state with 63,100 cattle and calves in 2007, including 27,200 beef cows, according to the Kentucky office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund was created by the Kentucky General Assembly in the 2000 session to invest half of Kentucky’s share of master tobacco settlement funds in agricultural development projects. The state had invested $279 million by the end of 2008.

The Agricultural Development Board, which oversees the fund, is led by Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer and Gov. Steve Beshear.