Popular grant program keeping large animal vets at work in Kentucky
By Chris Aldridge
Kentucky Ag News
When stakeholder dialogues began last fall concerning the shortage of large animal veterinarians in Kentucky, Brian Lacefield was struck by the numbers brought up by two veterinary colleges.
“One of the things we found out is these young veterinarians were graduating with a quarter of a million dollars in student loans,” said Lacefield, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Agricultural Policy (KOAP) at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
KOAP provides staff support to two boards, the Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corp. (KAFC) and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board (KADB). Using a portion of the money Kentucky receives through the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, KADB and KAFC provide grants, incentives, and low-interest loans to help farmers and agribusinesses innovate and grow. Through its role, KOAP oversees the boards’ investments into diversifying and supporting Kentucky agriculture.
KAFC already had a Large and Food Animal Veterinary Loan Program (LFAVLP) established. But Lacefield admitted, “The last thing these vets need right out of medical school is more debt.”
So discussions began within KADB to create a grant program: the Large and Food Animal Veterinary Incentive Program (LFAVIP). Grants through KADB incentivize vets to continue servicing large and food animals in their area by reimbursing up to 75 percent of eligible expenditures up to $100,000.
Seven of these grants, totaling $543,724 in state and county agricultural development funds, were awarded as of Nov. 1, with two more awaiting approval.
“It’s exceeded my expectations,” Lacefield said of the program. “While it’s not solving our whole problem, it’s helping these communities immensely. And we feel like this is a big help to these vets coming out of school.”
Seven Kentucky counties have committed funds to the grant program: Allen, Bracken, Christian, Hart, Mason, Todd, and Trigg. For each dollar a county contributes, the state matches it with $5.
“So far, with LFAVIP, there has been a tremendous amount of support from the local ag development councils to invest in their vets offering large and food animal services,” said Jesslyn Watson, a KOAP project manager. “We’re very excited about this program and the impact it will have on our livestock producers statewide.”
One of the beneficiaries of both the grant and loan programs is Dr. Andy Pike, owner of Pike Veterinary Services in Hardyville, Ky. He admitted he could not have bought out a neighboring mixed animal practice earlier this year without LFAVLP.
“I had the goal of expanding and being able to buy a brick-and-mortar location,” said Dr. Pike. “Building, expanding, or purchasing a practice is a major financial burden, especially considering the narrow profit margins of food animal medicine.”
Dr. Pike was one of two applicants approved this year by the KAFC for assistance through LFAVLP, which provides loans up to $250,000 at a low fixed interest rate of 2.75 percent. The program assists individuals licensed to practice veterinary medicine in Kentucky who desire to construct, expand, equip, or buy into a practice serving large animal producers, including goat, sheep, swine, and other food animals.
“LFAVLP helps provide additional financial security to veterinarians wanting to take such a ‘leap,’” Dr. Pike said. “It helped to allow us to purchase the practice and arm it with the equipment needed to practice high-quality medicine for our clients in rural Kentucky.”
Additionally, Dr. Pike was one of the seven Kentucky veterinarians approved for LFAVIP. Applicants are allowed to participate in both the loan and grant programs simultaneously.
“As a result, we can spend our time focusing on growing the business,” Dr. Pike said. “Our goal is eventually hiring more veterinarians to continue to grow our practice. This will place more large animal veterinarians into rural practice and continue to provide a very important service to the livestock producers in Kentucky.”