This article is a four minute read.
You know what they say: you can take the farmer out of Kentucky, but you can’t take Kentucky out of the farmer! Executive Director of the SLO Farm Bureau Brent Burchett has been living the SLO life for nearly one year now, but his southern accent will always give away his first home.
Bringing key insights about Kentucky’s vastly unique farm industry, Burchett is determined to represent the farmers of SLO County and advocate for “finding a reasonable balance” on important issues like agricultural environmental regulations and natural resource limitations. And a Kentuckian at heart, Burchett is also eager to share his insider knowledge on good ‘ol southern bourbon and the lingo from home that he misses hearing the most.
What’s your favorite thing about life on the Central Coast?
I love seeing how happy my fiancé, Kiah Twisselman, is living close to her family here in SLO County. She was awfully homesick when we lived in Lexington, Kentucky.
It has also been great interacting with students at Cuesta and Cal Poly. They’ve helped revitalize our Young Farmers & Ranchers program at Farm Bureau. I do miss the four full weather seasons we get back home, but who could complain about the sunny San Luis Obispo weather?
What regional Kentucky lingo do you miss hearing the most?
Ha, I can’t hide my accent here! Certainly the staples like “y’all” (you all) and “ain’t,” and a lot of words we just combine in the South like “yes’r” (yes sir), or greeting someone with “hi-dee” (I guess that’s a variation of howdy). If someone’s real angry, they are “madder than a wet hen.” When you’re misbehaving, someone needs to come “jerk a knot in your tail.” If you’re all dressed up, you “look like a $100 mule.”
What is it like going from working in a governmental position to becoming part of a non-governmental, membership-based organization like the Farm Bureau?
Government is tough. Everyone should have to work in public service at some point in their lives because dealing with difficult people and politicians teaches you patience and politeness. It also makes you appreciate how challenging the policy making process is. Helping good people get through bureaucracy is rewarding, and it’s something I still enjoy in my current role with Farm Bureau. My job is to protect our freedom to farm and ranch, and that mostly means working with local leaders and government staff. I can relate to the pressure they’re under and constraints they have to work around, and I think that makes me a better advocate for our members.
What are the most pertinent issues facing SLO County farmers today?
Water, labor and other regulations. Specifically, upcoming water quality regulations from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, and water quantity restrictions coming through our local Groundwater Sustainability Plans. Having high environmental or worker safety standards is great, and many of those are necessary given natural resource limitations here like groundwater or the manual labor required for the types of crops we grow. But too often these regulations fail to achieve their goals because the practical realities of farming are not considered. We continue to have challenges getting enough workers to raise crops, and farmers are hopeful that federal legislation like the Farm Workforce Modernization Act will provide some stability.
Kentucky has one of the most renowned industrial hemp programs in the nation, a program that you worked with extensively in your role there. What do you think SLO County should learn from Kentucky’s success in this crop?
It really shocks people in Kentucky when I tell them what happened here this year. I’m afraid that this county, and to some extent California as a whole, has missed the hemp train. The name of the game is to attract processors to ensure local demand for the crop, but the investors who were looking at SLO earlier this year just went elsewhere when the Urgency Ordinance was passed in June, which placed a moratorium on growing hemp. Getting processors was a big part of Kentucky’s hemp industry growth, but it certainly still faces huge growing pains.
There were more than 30,000 acres of hemp grown in Kentucky this year, and Kentucky has not had odor complaints like we’ve had in SLO County with cannabis and hemp. Kentucky obviously does not have grape production. If hemp or marijuana turn out to actually cause contamination of wine grapes (through compounds called terpenes present in the odor emitted by the crop), the county may have to revise the draft ordinance’s setback requirements to make it more compatible with grape growers. There are also issues with the low or zero pesticide residue level tolerances for cannabis and hemp that can be a problem for conventional crops in neighboring fields. The Farm Bureau’s recent comments to the County give a good overview of the challenges we’re dealing with.
I hear you are quite the whiskey and bourbon connoisseur. What qualities make a superb distilled spirit?
Dang, these are good questions. First lesson is that all bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. There’s a list of legal requirements for a spirit to be sold as bourbon whiskey, but the only good bourbon comes from Kentucky— it’s the place to make it and the place to age it. Those four full seasons I mentioned earlier are essential to getting bourbon to age properly. All of the color and most of the smoothness and taste profile comes from moonshine being drawn in and out of the new charred oak barrel over and over as the temperature changes: the older, the better. Easiest rule of thumb for buying a good sippin’ bourbon (one you don’t mix with anything) is to look for bourbons aged 10 years or older. If you like it on the rocks like I do, filter the water used for ice to avoid messing with the taste, or enjoy it “neat” just to be safe.
It’s almost January, so we must ask: what’s your New Year’s resolution?
Try to make time to relax and meet new people outside of agriculture. I’m excited about being a part of Leadership SLO Class 29! I am also looking forward to watching our membership grow: Chamber members can show their support for our awesome local agriculture industry by joining Farm Bureau as an Associate Member for just $125 online.
What’s one thing most people would be surprised to know about you?
I have a strange fascination with The Price is Right game show and an uncanny ability to guess prices. One of these days I’ll get down to L.A. and spin the big wheel!