Joseph Wright of Harned began his career as a small farmer in 1962 after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. He has grown his acreage and operation to become one of the largest farmers in Breckinridge County and Kentucky. He and his brother Ben, own a John Deere dealership that has grown from one location in Hardinsburg to an expanded operation with locations in Owensboro, Bowling Green and Glasgow.
Because of his broad-based knowledge of the profession, he was elected to serve the people of Kentucky as state senator from 1976-1992. He first served on the Senate’s agriculture and education committees, both of which immediately benefitted from his knowledge and experience in these areas.
Wright was so effective in his early years in the legislature that he was elected majority leader in 1981 and served 11 years in that position.
His leadership in the Senate served UK College of Agriculture well. In the mid-1980s, Coldstream Farm became the Research Park. The hog, dairy, beef, sheep and poultry units at Coldstream had to be relocated. Wright provided the legislative leadership along with hundreds of other state agricultural leaders and UK to arrange the funds to purchase the former Pine Oak Farm, which is now the C. Oran Little Research Farm. He also helped to spearhead legislation through the Kentucky General Assembly to secure funding for UK’s regulatory services building and agricultural engineering building.
During this time, some of the major issues before the legislature, in addition to the budget, were governor’s succession, the support for locating the Toyota plant in Georgetown, and the Kentucky Education Reform Act. By the 1990 Session, Wright had to sign off on all legislation. The passage of KERA required a sales tax increase for education. In 1991, Wright announced that he would not be seeking a fifth term. He wanted to return to full-time farming.
Wright served on the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Board of Directors from 1983-1995 and was president his last year. During this period, burley tobacco was a critical part of the state’s cash farm economy. He led the successful national effort in Washington, D.C., to sell a $1 billion of surplus tobacco to the tobacco companies. His leadership, diplomatic skills and ability to negotiate effectively for the farmers as well as the tobacco companies enabled the contract to be successfully completed.
His contribution to FFA began in high school and has continued during his professional career. He was a founding member of the Kentucky FFA Foundation Board and served 12 years.
Today, he serves as chairman of the Meade County River Port Authority and was appointed by Gov. Steve Brashear to serve on the 2012 Kentucky Tax Reform Commission.
Wright is recipient of the Kentucky Farm Bureau Distinguished Service award, Thomas Poe Cooper Distinguished Farm Leadership award, UK Agriculture Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award and Distinguished Rural Kentuckian, presented by the Kentucky Rural Electrical Cooperatives. He has served on the Kentucky State Fair Board and the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching.