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Ky. politicians flock to Farm Bureau breakfast to talk governor's race, auction off championship ham

Crowd stands in front of table of politicians with blue background.
Sylvia Goodman
Many in the crowd of 1,600 people stood to applaud Sen. Mitch McConnell as he took the podium at the 59th Annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast.

State politicians and candidates attended the breakfast, where a Kentucky country ham was sold for a record $10 million. The day before, protestors with the Fairness Campaign gathered for their last protest of the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s policies.

Some of Kentucky’s top farming officials and politicians, including the state’s governor and both U.S. senators, sat at the long banquet table in front of a packed room of 1,600 people at the Kentucky Expo Center early Thursday morning, to deliver speeches and auction off a champion country ham for millions of dollars.

The annual breakfast, now in its 59th iteration, has become a semi-pageant for politicians to speak to Kentucky agriculturalists.

The 18.06-pound championship country ham sold for a record $10 million this year to Kelly and Joe Craft and Central Bank. The same tag team also won in 2022 with a $5 million bid.

For 13 years straight, the Fairness Campaign, which advocates against LGBTQ+ discrimination in Kentucky, has protested the breakfast because of anti-LGBTQ policies included in the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s platform.

But, according to the group’s Executive Director Chris Hartman, this year will be the last protest. A day earlier, protestors gathered outside Freedom Hall, in front of the Farm Bureau's mascot, Freddie Farm Bureau.

“After thirteen years of protests, the coalition is reflecting on its victories and looking forward to fighting the greater challenges that face Kentuckians, like restoring abortion access, protecting transgender kids, and preserving our public schools,” Hartman wrote in a statement.

The group declared victory, saying the bureau no longer publicizes their discriminatory policies, the Farm Bureau has lost thousands of customers and messages from the protests have reached hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg and Gov. Andy Beshear, both Democrats, championed economic expansion in the state and bipartisanship during their speeches at the breakfast.

Beshear, who is seeking reelection this year, emphasized infrastructure achievements and the tens of thousands of jobs brought into the state over his term.

“What [this momentum] means is we have a chance to be the generation that changes everything, that turns our brain drain into a brain gain. Or think about it this way: it is our chance to leave a collective legacy that is not mine, it is all of ours. More opportunity for every generation that comes after us,” Beshear said. “That is a gift that we can leave to our children and our grandchildren if we continue at the pace that we are on.”

GOP. Senate Minority Leaders. Mitch McConnell criticized Democratic President Joe Biden during his remarks, blaming his COVID-era relief programs for inflation.

“I’m thrilled that you can still have this event given pork prices today. And hopefully that'll be reflected in the final bid in buying this great country ham,” McConnell said.

GOP Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who is term-limited and unsuccessfully ran for governor this year, thanked the room for supporting him and said he is not done in public service.

“No matter what you do in life, you try your best to be the man in the arena. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don't. I have fought hard for Kentucky. And I will continue to fight for Kentucky because it's worth the fighting,” Quarles said.

While the Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron did not speak at the official breakfast, he was met with a long applause when the Farm Bureau’s director recognized him.

After the auction, Cameron told reporters he would support farmers by lowering taxes and continuing to fight the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which he has frequently done as attorney general.

“I'm going to be a governor that's going to fight daily to make sure that our tax environment is as low as possible for farmers, for families all across Kentucky,” Cameron said.

Cameron criticized Beshear for vetoing a tax cut bill in 2022,though in his veto message Beshear objected to portions of the bill that extended sales tax to many more services. The legislature ultimately overrode the move.

Beshear did sign a GOP-sponsored tax cut earlier this year, which slashed the state’s individual income tax rate by a half-percentage point to 4%, adding onto the previous year’s decrease from 5% to 4.5% at the start of this year.

Cameron and Beshear will share the debate stage several times in the coming months.

But what about the ham?

According to Kaitlyn Thomas, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Farm Bureau, the Crafts and Central Bank have not officially announced what they intend to do with the ham, but it will likely be preserved and displayed at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. She said last year’s winning ham, which was sold to the same duo for $5 million, is also displayed at the college.

The champion 18.06-pound country ham, produced by Broadbent B&B Foods, sold for a record $10 million at the 2023 Kentucky Farm Bureau's annual ham breakfast.
Rebecca Feldhaus Adams
The champion 18.06-pound country ham, produced by Broadbent B&B Foods, sold for a record $10 million at the 2023 Kentucky Farm Bureau's annual ham breakfast.

The $10 million winning bid — $5 million from the Crafts and $5 million from the Central Bank — will go to nonprofits selected by the winners, Thomas said.

Central Bank said they plan to donate money to the following groups:

  • University of Kentucky Athletics
  • Markey Cancer Center
  • Gatton College of Business & Economics
  • University of Kentucky Alumni Association
  • Transylvania University
  • University of Kentucky Med Center
  • Keeneland Foundation 
  • St. Elizabeth Healthcare
  • Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky
  • The Brighton Center
  • Kentucky Derby Museum
  • Lynn Family Stadium
  • Eastern Kentucky University
  • Eastern Kentucky University Athletics
  • Federation of Appalachia Housing Enterprises
  • Kit Carson Commons of Richmond
  • Georgetown College
  • Asbury University
  • The Hope Center
  • Child Advocacy Center

The Crafts said they will also donate to various Boys and Girls Clubs, a new mental health initiative to be announced later this year and to building 57 new homes in Knott County for families affected by 2022 flooding.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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