Beshear says agriculture technology still has a future in Kentucky despite AppHarvest turmoil

by McKenna Horsley, Kentucky Lantern

SHELBYVILLE — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said “it’s unfortunate” AppHarvest has struggled but agriculture technology will continue to be part of the commonwealth’s future.

Earlier this week, the sustainable food company announced a change in leadership. AppHarvest founder Jonathan Webb will not longer serve as CEO and board chairman but will stay on as chief strategy officer. 

Controlled environment agriculture veteran Tony Martin became chief executive officer. Kevin Willis, a member of the board, became chairman. 

Based in Morehead, AppHarvest announced plans in 2020 to open huge greenhouses to grow tomatoes and other vegetables in Kentucky.

While taking media questions at a downtown Shelbyville campaign stop Friday, Beshear said “regardless of who’s leading, or who owns the facilities” AppHarvest currently owns, they will have a bright future in Kentucky. 

“It’s unfortunate that AppHarvest has had the challenges that it’s had, but certainly ag tech is a big part of Kentucky’s future, and we need to be in the forefront of it. When you look at what it’s going to take to feed the growing population here in Kentucky in the United States and across the world, those indoor growth facilities are going to be absolutely necessary

Before the change in CEOs was announced Thursday, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported AppHarvest’s Richmond facility is at-risk of foreclosure and the property owner of the Berea facility wants to terminate the company’s lease. The company’s stock price was about $0.35 Friday afternoon. 

News reports in December noted AppHarvest’s management “believes there is substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue” in a quarterly report. At the time, Beshear told the Kentucky Lantern he hoped “AppHarvest is able to come through this and come out the other side,” and added that he believed “the facilities themselves will continue and there will be a point where they are as important for our world’s food supply as they are for Kentucky. 

Back on the trail

The Shelbyville stop was the first public campaign event Beshear has had since his weekend statewide bus tour in May shortly after the primary election. He also stopped in Bardstown and Bowling Green Friday and was scheduled to travel to Georgetown, Lexington and Richmond on Saturday. 

Beshear’s opponent, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, campaigned in  Brandenburg and Hardinsburg Friday.

The incumbent governor’s Shelbyville stop at the Sixth & Main Coffeehouse offered very little elbow-room as the large crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk. 

 Shelbyville resident James-Etta Goodloe Reed, who previously supported Beshear in 2019 and plans to again in this election, said she appreciates that he is “very approachable” and knows the needs of citizens not just in Shelby County, but across the state. She also highlighted Beshear’s stances on social justice issues. 

“It wasn’t like he was behind a podium or we couldn’t have access to him. … He was in the center and he did not hesitate to engage with the citizens,” she said of Beshear’s appearance.

The governor’s opponent, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, campaigned in  Brandenburg and Hardinsburg Friday.

‘Forward for all of our people’

In his remarks to the crowd, Beshear hit several of his usual talking points such as economic development and supporting public education. 

The governor did throw a few jabs as well. He reminded the crowd of his 2019 win over former Gov. Matt Bevin as well as past controversial efforts to reform Kentucky’s pension plan in a “sewer bill” by Bevin and the General Assembly. The Kentucky Supreme Court ultimately struck down the law. 

Beshear said Cameron would have upheld the sewer bill and quipped: “Thank God we had a different attorney general several years ago.” Beshear was the attorney general at the time.

Beshear defeated Bevin by just over 5,000 votes.  

Next month, the governor and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman will speak at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in West Kentucky. He hasn’t attended since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic and flooding in Eastern Kentucky. The historic Kentucky political event was not held in 2020. 

Cameron is also among the event speakers. If he names a running mate before the picnic, his lieutenant governor pick can also address the crowd. Cameron has until Aug. 8. to announce a running mate for the November election.

“I know I’ve got the better lieutenant governor candidate, regardless of who’s chosen,” Beshear told reporters Friday. 

The governor also said he’s “certainly willing to participate in debates,” but has not received invitations yet. 

Beshear promised the crowd another large field operation in his bid for a second term.

“I’ve always believed that my job as governor is not to move the state to the right or the left but move it forward for all of our people,” he told the crowd. 

 Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear addresses a crowd at Sixth & Main Coffeehouse in Shelbyville. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)