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Agriculture Report

Agriculture, or farming, refers to the production of crops, livestock, and/or cultivation of land. Within Kenton County, most agricultural production occurs on smaller farms operating as a supplement to the owners’ full-time daily income. There are few, if any, subsistence farmers in the county, or those who farm full-time as their only income. Some areas once considered rural have changed to industrial due to economic shifts along southwest Kenton County whereas areas along the southeastern portion of the county have changed to recreation. Even with these changes, most farmland in the county lies  predominantly south of KY 16 in the Rural Sub Area as shown in Figure 1.

This encompasses approximately half of the county’s geographic area and is characterized by more rural land development forms such as larger lots, rolling hills and fields, and generally supports farming operations and infrastructure such as barns and outbuildings. While most agricultural production is limited to this southern area, smaller enterprises do occur in pockets of the northern areas.

Research of agricultural practices indicates Kenton County farming enterprises have changed significantly over the last 30 years. “Traditional” farming enterprises (classified as tobacco or cattle livestock production) have diminished in Kenton County and Northern Kentucky1. Today agriculture exists as a blend of traditional farming and new ventures that have only recently become possible. Agricultural endeavors such as agritourism, wine production, goat livestock, and shellfish enterprises are now happening in the county and demonstrate that, while changing, agriculture is still a significant part of the economic landscape of southern Kenton County.

Agriculture also plays a role in the overall County economic landscape as it contributes significantly to the character of Kenton County. Just a short drive from the center of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Region provides a rural landscape escape from urban living while still within the region’s bounds. The proximity of this rural landscape to the metro’s center, provides a true view into the rural culture of the state of Kentucky and an outlet from the more dense and often congested development of the more urban portions of this region.                                                               


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classification categorizes different agricultural data sets such as number of farms, farm labor and cattle populations present within the agricultural landscape2. The classifications detailed in this report were chosen to allow for quantitative analysis of hard data for Kenton County over a 30-year period. This information allowed for comparative analysis of agricultural trends since 1987 by including data such as: number of farms, farmland acres, harvested crop land, hired farm labor, and total farm sales. Figure 2 contains data pertaining to agriculture in Kenton County from 1987 to 2017 and generally reveals decline in more traditional farming enterprises such as cattle livestock.  

A review of more traditional farm enterprises for Kenton County was also conducted. This analysis reviewed production of burley tobacco, hay, and cattle livestock. These figures were chosen for analysis as they represented data that most closely matched typical farming operations that were historically in the area. Data on newer farming enterprises such as horticulture production in the form of greenhouses or nurseries, ornamental production such as flowers, and even egg production was challenging to assess as the USDA has not historically tracked such categories. The analysis was however able to discover goat livestock numbers, which is one indicator of the change in agriculture away from more traditional ventures such as cattle and tobacco. The next section offers more insight into the data provided in Figure 2. Information from the most recent Census of Agriculture was available at the time of publication3.


To gain a more comprehensive understanding of agricultural operations in Kenton County, two reports specific to the rural portion of Kenton County were reviewed and composed in 2005. These documents were prepared by the Kenton County Farmland Working Group and are available online at the Kenton County Conservation District website4. These reports provide analysis of the future of agriculture in the county as studied in the mid-2000’s and are still considered relevant today.

These studies examined agriculture in the county via a three-part strategy:

  1. Public involvement in the form of three citizen focus groups and a county-wide survey.
  2. An agricultural industry profile and Cost of Community Services (COCS) study, and
  3. An investigation of funding sources and techniques to create a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.

The public involvement process is defined in The Kenton County Agriculture and Farmland Futures Project and the results of the COCS and PDR studies are examined in A Profile of Agriculture in Kenton County, Kentucky.

Summaries of the reports are provided below; however, more detailed information on agriculture in the county is provided in the full report. The Kenton County Agriculture and Farmland Futures Project (2005) The Kenton County Agriculture and Farmland Futures Report was conducted in 2005 and sought to answer questions about agriculture in the county from those who farm. Among three of the key questions outlined in the report were:

  1. Is agriculture a viable industry in Kenton County?
  2. Is there public support for the preservation of farmland and the agricultural community?
  3. How might farmland preservation efforts be funded on a continuing basis?

Summarizing the focus group and public survey responses reveals that people felt there were fewer working farms in the county than in the past and that remaining farms were generally hobby farms (those that were not full-time, self-sustaining operations). Respondents also felt that farms benefit the area in several ways including preserving habitat, erosion control, preservation of rural character, and a lower need for government services.

Concerns were also raised in the 2005 report about family farms being sold off for residential or commercial development. This concern resonates with comments received throughout the comprehensive plan's 2023 public involvement sessions in which a majority of respondents wished to see the southern portion of the county remain rural. Given the strong interest in the area retaining its rural character, any future updates to the comprehensive plan should be mindful of this area of the county and how future development occurs.


Prompted by results from public input in The Kenton County Agriculture and Farmland Futures Project a second report was conducted by the Kenton County Farmland Working Group (KCFWG). Concern over the rapid development of land combined with the decline of agriculture in Kenton County prompted the KCFWG to commission three studies detailed in this report:

  1. Analysis of the current agriculture industry in Kenton County.
  2. Analysis of incoming tax revenue from and public services expenses for agriculture properties.
  3. Feasibility of a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.

The results of these analyses are detailed in the full report. Major findings from the report include the following:

  1. Despite a drop in tobacco farming, significant farmland is still in production. Farmers are also adapting to changing industry by changing products.
  2. Farm real estate values are increasing while farming net income is decreasing.
  3. Tax revenue from farming is small, but this revenue more than covers public services cost to county.
  4. There is existing support to preserve farmland. Most farmers surveyed plan to farm “as long as I’m able.” Many respondents feel there is too much development throughout the county and that it is taking up open land. Despite resistance to government involvement, many believe agriculture preservation is important (wildlife, water quality, heritage of area, buffer against too much development).
  5. Despite public support for a PDR program, there is little support from public officials.

The Working Group recommends:

  1. Outreach and education to build support for PDR program.
  2. At the same time, pursue other alternatives:
  3. Prioritize which farmland should be saved.
  4. Continue to educate public on values of farmland.
  5. Pilot a PDR program 6. Identify ways to improve economic viability of all agriculture.

As with the aforementioned Farmland Futures Project, comments received throughout the comprehensive plan’s 2023 public involvement sessions seem to echo the findings of the Profile of Agriculture in Kenton County, Kentucky report. Respondents spoke about urbanizing pressures from northern Kenton County moving south as developable land is constructed upon. Both public responses and findings in the Profile of Agriculture in Kenton County, Kentucky indicated a strong desire to keep the southern end of the county open and rural. Again, the plan will need to be especially mindful of the future character of the rural sub area as recommendations for the future can be especially impactful in this open area.


The data in Figure 2 appears to indicate that traditional agriculture in Kenton County has declined and the only category with a significant increase is goat livestock. This analysis, however, offers an incomplete picture because of the limitations of data collected by the USDA throughout the review period of 1987-2017. Additional research into this change, however, reveals a different picture5.

Customary forms of farming such as cattle livestock and tobacco production have declined as outlined by the Census of Agriculture; however, new agricultural ventures are being conducted in Kenton County. These operations appear to be on a smaller scale than has typically been seen throughout the county’s agricultural history. Today’s local agriculture landscape contains new practices including the following:

  1. Agritourism
  2. Egg Production
  3. Equine Livestock
  4. Fruit and Vegetable Production
  5. Horticulture Production
  6. Ornamental Production
  7. Vineyards and Wine Production

In Kentucky, a farm is defined as 10 or more acres with certain production practices or 5 or more acres in horticulture6. Additional farming enterprises that have not otherwise been reported on the USDA Census are tracked locally as the Census is a self-reporting tool that might not account for all farms3. Locally, the Kenton County Cooperative Extension (KCCE) service has direct experience assisting families in Kenton County with small farming ventures. These endeavors have helped families to add income to their households through mushroom, poultry, and ornamental plant production. Since these ventures often operate below the USDA’s definition7 of a farm they have not historically been counted in the Census.

Local expertise provides insight into why cattle herd sizes have decreased, while harvested farmland and hay production have increased over the review period. Research finds that herd decline could be attributed to factors like loss of productive pastures to development. Also, droughts in 1988 and 2007 forced farmers to reduce herd size due to loss of pasture while the demand for fresh beef nationally and internationally made it difficult to find good reasonably priced breeding stock3. Thus, climate and market challenges have made increasing the herd size difficult for local farmers. While cattle livestock numbers have been declining, Kentucky still ranks eighth in the nation in beef cattle production. Increased percentages of harvested farmland and hay production are attributed to better agricultural practices on smaller farms and better fertilization techniques leading to increased yields. Switching former tobacco fields to hay also provides for increased hay tonnage.


Research provided in the earlier sections of this chapter indicate that while traditional agricultural methods are decreasing, new farming ventures are starting to take their place. Findings in the Kenton County Conservation District reports from the mid 2000’s show many people living in the southern portion of the county wish for it to remain rural. These findings were echoed in public comments received during the comprehensive plan update process. Previous plans have relied on the Urban/Suburban and Rural Focus Areas to help retain the area’s rural character.

The Urban/Suburban and Rural Focus Areas is a designation on the Recommend Land Use Map from the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. This area delineates the portion of Kenton County that can economically provide a full range of urban services, such as: water, sewer, police, fire, emergency response, public education, mobility, parks and recreation, libraries, code enforcement, health services, planning and zoning, solid waste disposal, courts, jails, etc., at a higher level that can support such development. While these amenities are available outside of the Urban Service Area, the supporting population density is not at high enough levels to warrant full urban-like densities. The Urban Service Area roughly corresponds with the alignment of KY-16 and incorporates the area northward to the river. Areas to the south of this boundary generally correspond with the rural sub area and are not recommended for high levels of urban services.

However, respondents in the comprehensive plan 2023 public involvement sessions clearly and continually requested better infrastructure in the form of wider and safer roadways, improved access to water, and upgraded telecommunications options in southern Kenton County. These amenities are more typically found and provided for in urbanized areas north of KY 16. In fact, federal transportation funds from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) are limited to roadways within the urbanized area. Therefore, any funding needed for roadway improvements in southern Kenton County would have to come from state or county budgets, which can be much more limited.

The plan will need to carefully assess this unique area of Kenton County as future demands will likely look to the area’s open land for construction. If residents and elected officials truly want the area to remain rural while concurrently providing improved amenities, then care must be taken to strike a balance that will allow for both to occur.


The rural area of southern Kenton County described in this report predominantly consists of unincorporated areas governed by the Kenton County Fiscal Court. However, the area also encompasses parts of Walton, Ryland Heights, Fairview and Taylor Mill, each with their own elected representation. Two committees have been established to provide some semblance of voice to people in southern Kenton County. Information on both is found below.

South Kenton County Working Group (SKCWG)

The SKCWG is a group of representatives from local organizations that discusses topics that pertain to the more rural area of the county. The group meets quarterly and is chaired by the Kenton County Judge Executive. Representatives from PDS and the Kenton County Cooperative Extension Services8 (KCCE) also participate in discussions.

Southern Kenton County Citizens Group (SKCCG)

This group was formed as a result of a public meeting held for the Direction 2030 effort at Piner Elementary in December 2011. After the public meeting, a small group of residents began meeting to discuss issues pertaining specifically to southern Kenton County including infrastructure needs and growth issues. Initial group discussions held four times during 2012 focused on infrastructure needs including water, roadways and transit service. The following needs have been examined and addressed as follows:

  1. The Northern Kentucky Water District and Kenton County to apply for a grant in late 2012 which will extend water lines to 133 households in Little Cruises Creek, Rich Road, Fontana, KY 177, Rouse Road, Camp Road and Harbil Road. The approved grant for the proposed project will construct 6.74 miles of waterlines that residents can connect to if they choose.
  2. In addition, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) extended bus service to Piner in August 2012 but due to lack of ridership the service was cancelled in November of 2012. This issue can be revisited in the future if the need arises.
  3. The need for a roadway prioritization process was also discussed which will be further investigated during the update to the Kenton County Transportation Plan.

During the latest comprehensive plan update process, respondents emphasized the importance of preserving the rural heritage of Southern Kenton County, updating infrastructure and expanding utilities in underserved areas of southern Kenton County. The main themes of the previous South Kenton Working Groups were mirrored in responses pertaining to preservation, growth, and areas underserved that remain concerns and underserved presently.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture – Census of Agriculture 1987 to 2017
  2. United States Department of Agriculture - - provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management
  3. Census data from 2017.
  4. Kenton County Farmland Working Group. (2005, April). A Profile of Agriculture in Kenton County, Kentucky. Kenton County Conservation District:
  5. Allen, D. (2012, June 13). Current Agricultural Landscape in Kenton County, Kentucky. (J. Fausz, Interviewer)
  6. Dickerson, M. K. (2013, January 16). Review of Kenton County Farms.
  7. “The census definition of a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. The definition has changed nine times since it was established in 1850.  The current definition was first used for the 1974 Census of Agriculture and has been used in each subsequent agriculture census. This definition is consistent with the definition used for current USDA surveys. The farm definition used for each U.S. territory varies. The report for each territory includes a discussion of its farm definition” (USDA, 2007).
  8. Kenton County Cooperative Extension - Kentucky’s two land-grant universities, the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, serve as partners in conducting educational programs through Cooperative Extension. The program delivery process involves Extension faculty, county agents, advisory council members, volunteer leaders and the general public. Kentucky Cooperative Extension is the educational resource for all Kentuckians that serves as a catalyst to build better communities and improve quality of life.
  9. University of Kentucky. (2017, December). Community & Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky. Kentucky County Ag and Food Profiles: