Our sister paper The Morehead News produced an interesting local story this week on plans for a hi-tech greenhouse in Rowan County.
The proposal calls for a 350-acre parcel in the Sharkey community. Jonathan Webb, AppHarvest’s founder and chief executive officer, said his company is looking at establishing a business operation about two miles off I-64. The company builds some of America’s largest greenhouses to grow non-GMO chemical free produce. The business model reduces water usage by 80 percent. The proposal in Rowan County calls for dedicating 120 acres of a 350-acre campus for a greenhouse. This would include a 60-acre glass and steel greenhouse and a 10-acre pond.
Wow. Even the most avid gardener would have a challenge wrapping their mind around that type of facility.
The site would employ 285 full-time workers with jobs paying a minimum of $13 an hour. The cost of the project would approach $85 million and be financed in part by “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance’s investment group. That’s a major investment for a mostly rural county in Kentucky.
Needless to say if this project comes to fruition it would be a major development and great news for the residents of Rowan County. We certainly hope it plays out as planned. To us this is an example of the type of out of the box entrepreneurship so needed in our area. There are many different types of businesses one can open, but what really leads to success is innovation. Doing something new. Producing a product that is different than the rest — a product that stands out in the marketplace, or, finding a way to produce a product that is much more cost efficient. It sounds like the AppHarvest effort has all of these goals in mind in creating this agricultural campus. We commend them on their attempts to innovate.
This leads to a recurring theme in our editorials, which is the importance of agriculture in our area. It is in our view a resource that hasn’t been fully tapped in to. Agriculture businesses are the roots of rural America. When we look around at job growth potential in eastern Kentucky, of course we see the need for more manufacturing and the need for training workers in the trades, technology, and in science. We also see the need, however, for more agriculture. A lot of the traditional, highly leveraged farms in America are really struggling right now given this ever-increasing need for more capital and equipment for large-scale agriculture. The University of Kentucky reports U.S. New Farm Income has been on a steady, albeit somewhat fluctuating decline since 2013. Trade wars aren’t helping, either.
This, in turn, leads to the realization that there must be a better way. A new way forward for American agriculture. It sounds to us like AppHarvest sees it the same way.
What other unique agricultural markets can we, in eastern Kentucky, capitalize on? Hemp? Fish farms? Expanding farmers market access?
All of these are areas ripe for development. There is land and water. There is a hard working labor force.
What we need is the innovation, the ideas, the entrepreneurship and the capital to make it happen.