A University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture-led study aims to accurately assess the number of horses in Kentucky and their economic impact--fundamental pieces of information currently unavailable to those who need it.

UK's Equine Initiative, in conjunction with the University of Louisville's (UofL) Equine Business Program and the Kentucky field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and in partnership with the Kentucky Horse Council (KHC), will conduct a statewide comprehensive survey of all horse breeds in 2012. The last comprehensive study of this kind was conducted in 1977.

"Making good policy for the horse industry requires good facts," said project leader Jill Stowe, PhD, assistant professor in agricultural economics at UK. "This statewide, all-breed survey will gather information we currently do not have, including accurate estimates of the number of horses in Kentucky at the county level and the economic impact of the equine industry--including revenue and expenses, the value of land and buildings, and the state, federal and local taxes paid by equine operations. It will also build a framework for future research and equine health monitoring purposes.

"In addition, this study will allow us to establish a sample frame to conduct follow-up studies roughly every five years to track changes in the industry," she added. "Knowing this information will establish a benchmark enabling the industry to nimbly adapt to changing market conditions."

According to Stowe, similar analyses have been conducted recently in many nearby states, including Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia, and in none of those states is the horse as critical to the economy as it is in Kentucky.

The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board’s announcement Thursday of its approval of $300,000 in state funds for the Kentucky Horse Council to conduct an equine economic impact survey was one of the final pieces needed to launch the study.

"The UK Equine Initiative is delighted at the formal partnership with KHC and appreciates the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, Agricultural Development Board for its support," said Nancy Cox, PhD, associate dean for research in UK's College of Agriculture, Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station director, and administrative leader for the Equine Initiative. "We also thank our other numerous partners. Those who have been with us in the early planning stages, in addition to the Horse Council, include the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Inc., Kentucky Quarter Horse Association and Kentucky Equine Education Project. Finally we appreciate the Kentucky Office of National Agricultural Statistics Service for providing the best survey platform available for agriculture in the U.S."

The study is anticipated to cost about $600,000. In addition to the $300,000 committed by the Agricultural Development Board, the College of Agriculture has committed $200,000 for the study. Equine industry organizations will provide the remaining $100,000, and fundraising is under way. 

The bulk of the funds goes directly to the Kentucky field office of National Agricultural Statistics Service, an agency that conducts this type of census research regularly and is able to provide the highest level of confidentiality to participants. Neither UK nor UofL are charging overhead costs. The remaining funds will be used for staff support, travel, supplies, and equipment.

The effort has broad equine industry support and has been several years in the making. In early 2006 the Kentucky Equine Education Project and UK partnered to gather a snapshot of some of the numerical information Kentucky was lacking. Funding was limited and the time frame for gathering information was narrow. While they received important information from participating counties, more information was needed to get an accurate statewide picture. In 2009 the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club board approached UK to explore conducting an academically rigorous study of the number of horses in Kentucky and their economic impact on the state. That led to a partnership with the Kentucky Horse Council, Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club, and the Kentucky Quarter Horse Association in securing funding and educating horse owners around the state about the study and its importance.

"Over the past few years the Kentucky Horse Council board has discussed the need for accurate and current data on the horse industry across the state," said Anna Zinkhon, Kentucky Horse Council board president. "Without good information, the Horse Council could not provide adequate advice to those wanting to start new equine businesses in the Commonwealth or to local officials who wanted to promote equestrian activities for local tourism. This study will answer those questions and provide the much-needed detail and economic analysis for true industry development and promotion."

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club board of directors responded to news that the project had secured funding with the statement, "The Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club is greatly impressed to learn that substantial funding has been raised for the most comprehensive equine economic impact study in state history. The diligent work by those involved has made this project become reality. This important study will scientifically quantify the contribution of all horses to Kentucky’s economy."

According to Stowe, sample frame development, promotion, education, and survey design have already begun. The mail survey will be administered near the end of July 2012, and it is anticipated that a summary report will be ready from National Agriculture Statistics Service sometime around the end of December 2012. UK and UofL will complete additional data analysis in early 2013.

In preparation for the survey mailing, UK personnel have begun traveling statewide, holding meetings to educate the public about the project, and gathering ideas from county extension agents and equine industry participants about important issues facing the industry. Information collected during these forums will help shape the questionnaire mailed to participants, as well as help determine the direction of follow-up analyses.

Horse owners can get involved now by sending their contact information--name, mailing address, and phone number--directly to National Agriculture Statistics Service at nass-ky@nass.usda.gov with "Kentucky Equine Survey" in the subject line. National Agriculture Statistics Service provides the highest level of confidentiality and includes a confidentiality pledge on its site at www.nass.usda.gov. Horse owners can also send this information to equineinitiative@uky.edu,and it will be forwarded to National Agriculture Statistics Service. Those connected to the equine industry can e-mail issues they feel are relevant to the Equine Initiative at the above address. Finally, if horse owners receive a survey in the mail, they are urged to complete it and mail it back.

More information about the Kentucky Equine Survey can be found at www2.ca.uky.edu/equine/kyequinesurvey.

Holly Wiemers, MA, is communications director for UK's Equine Initiative.


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