FRANKFORT — Building on Kentucky’s signature agriculture, food and beverage industries, a new entity has been formed to cultivate an ecosystem for entrepreneurs and startups in the agri-food sector, in hopes of making the state the ag tech capital of the country.

The Bluegrass Ag Tech Development Corp.’s board of directors include representatives of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, city of Lexington, University of Kentucky and Alltech.

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles cited Kentucky’s world dominance in the horse industry, expanding bourbon production, genetic progress in poultry and sustainability advancements in no-till farming as selling points for attracting agribusinesses. Kentucky offers traditional business incentives from the state, along with agriculture resources such as funding, networking and marketing support for startups.

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton calls this an opportunity to make the Lexington and Fayette County area a thriving Ag Tech center, saying her proposed budget includes $1 million to kickstart the Bluegrass Ag Tech Development Corporation.

“Advancement of ag-tech as an economic development initiative has been a key focus of my first term,” she said. “Good, high-paying jobs will grow out of this public private partnership.”

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment Dean Nancy Cox said this effort is a complement to the college’s education, research and outreach.

“A vibrant ag tech hub will provide more opportunities to develop new research collaborations and innovations, while also providing more opportunities for UK graduates to stay in Kentucky and work in these new agriculture-based companies,” Cox said. “With a presence in all 120 Kentucky counties, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service provides education and technical assistance that helps producers across the state benefit from new ag tech innovation.”

The board’s next step is to begin the search for an executive director.