Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is not eliminating Kentucky’s beekeeping program, even though he fired the state’s honeybee expert last week.
State apiarist Phil Craft held his position for 12 years, under both Democratic and Republican commissioners. When Agriculture Commissioner James Comer took office, he laid off 16 of the office’s political appointees, including Craft.
Comer’s office says Kentucky isn’t eliminating the state’s beekeeping program—he just wants to appoint his own people to positions. But the dismissal of an experienced, nationally recognized and admired apiarist is raising eyebrows in the agricultural community. It also has people asking why the state beekeeper is a politically-appointed position.
As apiarist, Craft helped beekeepers around the state raise bees and keep them healthy. Apiculture researcher Tom Webster says Craft was great at his job.
“I was involved in the interviews for that position and I recommended that Phil get the job because he had the attitude and the energy and the background and everything, so I was very happy that he did step in,” Webster said. “And he really made beekeeping a whole lot better in the state, because he was involved in a lot of outreach, pest identification…”
Craft himself doesn’t know why his former position is a political one.
“I wasn’t one of the typical political hires,” he said. “I always considered myself an agricultural specialist. I went through an interview process with about eight candidates, including apiary people from other states.”
Craft estimates there are anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 beekeepers in Kentucky. Besides producing honey, the insects are responsible for pollinating flowers and crops in the state.
Phone calls to the agriculture departments of Kentucky’s neighboring states reveal that none of their honeybee programs are led by political appointees.