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June 2012
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Harvesting heritage

By ANGELA OLIVER Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer

OWENSBORO -- "This is what our sunset looks like," Katrina Kuegel said holding up her phone to show a recent snapshot. A bold but warm orange faded into quiet, dark blues as the sun set over the vast Flat Lick Farms.

The Wayne Bridge Road farm spans 3,000 acres of grain and cattle.

"Where else can you go to see a calf being born? To look out and see nature in progress?" said third-generation farmer Scott Kuegel, Katrina's husband. "I love the farm because I get to see God's handiwork, I get to be so close."

Kuegel's grandfather, Martin Kuegel, who was a tenant farmer, worked his way to purchasing land. Scott Kuegel's father, Jimmy, named the farm, which sits near Flat Lick Creek, in 1965.

The family's attachment to farming, said the farm's present owner, is one of the bright sides.

His father and uncles ran Kuegel Brothers Farms until the 1980s when they decided to branch off. Scott Kuegel and his brothers -- entrepreneur Robbie and Commonwealth's Attorney Bruce Kuegel -- also farmed together for a while. Several cousins farm in Philpot, Centertown and other areas. And each day, he works alongside his wife, his son, Bryan, his son-in-law, Jeremy Westerfield, his nephew, Bruce "BJ" Kuegel and Coy Kellums, a longtime friend who is just like family.

"The chemistry in this group -- I've been farming on my own since 1990, and this group right here today is the best group of people I've had," Scott Kuegel said, "What we're able to get accomplished is phenomenal."

Working with family isn't always easy.

"We'll have spats and disagreements, but you have to be able to swallow your personal pride, keep the professional side and remember you still have to be around each other when the family gets together, when we're home," Bryan Kuegel said. "But I think that brings us closer; it teaches us to have respect for one another. And it gives me a sense of pride and heritage to be a farmer."

"Yeah, and it's a blessing to be able to work on the same grounds my grandfather and great-grandfather worked on," said BJ Kuegel. "Not too many people get to say that."

Having each other also helps during years when nature shows it volatility.

"It can be tiring and challenging, especially years like this one, with the weather. And markets are lower than they've been in a while," Bryan Kuegel said.

"But farming is freedom," said Westerfield. "You can work freely and not feel restricted. There's nothing like it."

"It's definitely not the same every day," said Kellums. His first name is akin to "shy" but he's the comedian of the bunch.

"There are hard times, but we do laugh a lot; we have fun," Katrina Kuegel, who manages the office, said. The Florida native, whose parents are both from Owensboro, moved back in 1993. She and Kuegel married five years ago and have four children between them.

"I grew up a cop's kid and my late husband was a cop, so that was all I knew," she said. "But I've taken to (farming) like a duck to water. I've learned a lot, and we get to see God's grace every day. It makes me happy."

Even with years of farming behind them, the guys also learn new things each year given that agriculture technology changes as swiftly as the seasons.

"Technology can be expensive on the output, but in three, maybe four years, you'll see your payback and know it's worth the cost," Bryan Kuegel said.

Daviess County has been a leader in keeping up with it, Scott Kuegel said.

"Daviess County agriculture is some of the most progressive agriculture in the U.S.," he said. "Local farmers have been on the cutting edge for the last 30 years with precision farming, satellite technology and other aspects. We don't turn a wheel without being tied to technology."

The changes have benefited the environment in some ways, he said. For instance, many farmers now spread lime or other chemicals more accurately in smaller target areas rather than as a blanket over the whole field. The farmers also soil test every other year to determine the weak spots, which is more frequent than in the past.

"There's a lot of concern from the public about chemicals and fertilizer, and we have concerns about that also," Scott Kuegel said. "That's why we keep it precise, we put chemicals only where they're needed."

To reassure consumers and bridge the gap that is often found between them and producers, Kuegel said Flat Lick Farms is also open to visitors, and always has been.

"We open our doors to show people what we do here, what all goes into it," he said. But they don't take the credit for the successful operation.

"We might plant, harvest and tend to the land, but ultimately, farming is about 15 percent what we do," Kuegel said, "and the rest is up to God. He gives us the tools and skills; it's all a blessing from the good Lord."

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