Agriculture

The ground may be frozen now, but later this year, hemp plants will spring up on thousands of acres of land in Kentucky.  A record number of growers have been approved to cultivate industrial hemp this year.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has approved 209 applications from growers who will plant 12,800 acres of hemp for research purposes.  More than 23-hundred acres was cultivated in 2016. 

“By nearly tripling hemp acreage in 2017 and attracting more processors to the state, we are significantly growing opportunities for Kentucky farmers,” Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said in a news release.

Besides individual growers, five universities, including WKU, will grow and research the crop.  The state has also approved 40 hemp processors.  The recent decline in commodity prices is believed to be a factor behind increased interest in hemp production.

Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

On Nelson Key Road in Murray, Kentucky, lies a 30-acre tobacco farm and there sits the road’s namesake, Nelson Key himself. He’s just at the end of this year’s harvest, which was brought in with the help of migrant workers.

“I used American workers up until 1991 then I went to the migrant workers and I’ve had them ever since,” he explained.

Over the years Key found it harder to hire domestic labor despite offering pay above minimum wage. Migrant workers now fill the gap. He uses the immigration service’s H-2A program for temporary agricultural workers. Key has to show that he tried to hire locally before he’s eligible to hire foreign labor for seasonal work.

That’s how he found Jose Humanez, a 33-year-old from Nayarit, Mexico. He grew up around tobacco and has worked for Key for 11 years. He said the H-2A process wasn’t too complicated.

Flickr/Creative Commons

University of Kentucky agricultural economists say the state's net farm income could drop to its lowest level since 2010.

They're pointing to sharply lower cattle prices along with large grain stockpiles and the lowest tobacco receipts of the post-tobacco buyout era as factors behind the decline in farm income. On the positive side, they say poultry receipts are back on track.

UK ag economist Will Snell said Thursday that Kentucky's net farm income — the amount left after expenses — is expected to drop below $1.5 billion in 2016, down from $1.7 billion in 2015. It's well off the peak of nearly $3 billion in 2013.

Agricultural cash receipts in 2016 are projected to drop 7 percent to $5.4 billion, down from a record high of $6.5 billion in 2014.

Kentucky Division of Forestry

Dry conditions and unseasonably warm temperatures have caused a rash of wildfires across Kentucky. Nearly 30,000 acres of forest and grassland have burned in the eastern half of the state.

After an extremely dry September and October, a level one drought has been declared for 117 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

"We're at a time of year where, generally, we're not as vulnerable to drought because the demand for water decreases as we get into the cool season of the year," State Climatologist Stuart Foster told WKU Public Radio.  "Nonetheless, there's a possibility that this could extend through the winter months."

More than 60 counties have issued burn bans as a result of the wildfires and drought conditions. Relief is nowhere in sight in the seven-day forecast.

Lisa Autry

October is Farm to School Month in Kentucky and the state agriculture department is hoping to expand the number of schools using locally produced foods. 

Seventy-seven school districts already have programs in place to buy local foods.  Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says local chefs play an important role too.

"These chefs help train food preparers to go buy food from farmers' markets or farmers," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "They learn how to properly store it and manage it , and also, it makes their recipes a little more enjoyable."

A grant program allows the agriculture department to contract with nine chefs and each one is assigned to a region of the state.  The goal is to bring fresh, healthy foods to school cafeterias while opening up new markets for farmers.

Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Mount St. Joseph in Daviess County, Kentucky, may appear calm with the Green River flowing past  homes that dot the farmland here. But there is trouble in the air and it comes along with the smell of a large hog farm.

Sixty-three year old Jerry O’Bryan was born and raised on a farm in Daviess County. By the time he was 22 he had lost both parents and was left 150 acres to support his family.

“Back when I started there was two things that a young man with very little money could do to get started in agriculture, one of them was tobacco and the other one was hogs,” explained O’Bryan.

Now he produces more than 200,000 market hogs a year. Recently, he built a hog truck wash, Piggy Express LLC., to sanitize five semi trucks used a day to transport hogs to market. The facility upset local residents. They’ve formed  a group called CAPPAD, or Community Against Pig Pollution and Disease. Don Peters, a retired engineer, is a member.

Whitney Jones/WKMS

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner is predicting 2017 will be the biggest year yet for the state’s hemp program.

The commonwealth is now accepting applications for those who want to take part in the pilot research project next year.

Ryan Quarles wants to build on the increasing amount of hemp that’s been planted since the program began in 2014.

“In the first year, about 30 acres were planted. In the second year, about 900. This year, over 2,000. And we fully expect there to be substantial growth in 2017,” Quarles said.

More information on Kentucky's program, including the 2017 policy guide and a downloadable application, can be found here.

Kentucky is running its program under a federal law that allows industrial hemp pilot projects.

Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

It’s harvest time and a semi full of corn just pulled onto the scales at Seven Springs Farm in Cadiz, Kentucky. On the scale, the analytics work begins: moisture content, weight, production rates, and more are all recorded.

This is just one truck and many more will follow with much more to be stored and later sold for ethanol production. Just one of the farm’s bins can hold as many as 350,000 bushels, or 16.8 million pounds.

These trucks of corn are just one bite of a mouthful of big data that this local farm’s server can no longer swallow. As the farm’s production and technology manager, it’s Nick Woodruff’s job to keep track of it all.

“The way things communicate now and interact has changed a lot in the last couple years, Woodruff said.

So has the size of the farm: what started at just 2000 acres covers 36,000 today. When the farm was smaller and “clouds” still just meant white puffy things in the sky, farm data were stored on site. Now, everything is transmitted to a cloud server owned by John Deere, the tractor company.

Wikimedia Commons

Kentucky's Agriculture Commissioner is asking the federal government to reconsider its latest set of rules regarding industrial hemp.

Last month, Ryan Quarles said he would be reviewing the U.S, Department of Agriculture's 'Statement of Principles' to see how it relates to Kentucky's own pilot hemp research program.

A provision in the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp for research purposes, but did not remove the cannabis-related plant from the controlled substances list, giving federal agencies authority over restrictions.  

In a letter sent yesterday to the USDA, Quarles says he now has several objections in that several aspects of the principles contradict Congress' original intent and "could hinder industrial hemp's economic potential" in Kentucky.

Quarles says the new rules name the only economically viable parts of the hemp plant as the "fiber and seed" to only be used for industrial applications. Quarles says that over half of Kentucky's hemp acreage harvests cannabidiol - a hemp oil that does not come from either the fiber nor seed, and that the 'industrial application' proviso would also mean hemp could not be used in a drug, as a food ingredient or for artistic purposes.

Nicole Erwin, WKMS

A federal opinion on industrial hemp research programs may provide new opportunities in Kentucky.  

The report, called a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp, released by the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration holds no actual legal standing but does attempt to offer some clarity on how Federal laws will be applied to hemp research production.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is reviewing the opinion to determine how significant an impact the notice could have on the industry.

In the meantime, Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles said some progress is clear, like the USDA allowing Organic Certification of the crop and access to specialty crop grant funding.

“There are some areas that may be problematic, including the definition of what the actual definition of what industrial hemp is,” said Quarles.

According to the Commissioner, 60 percent of the state’s hemp programs are invested in hemp oil production, or CBD. After the first reading of the statement, the KDA is unclear how the federal organizations view this area of research.

Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

On 120 acres in Marion, Kentucky, small-scale farmer Joseph Mast is taking an innovative approach to provide for his growing family of nine.

Mast belongs to an Amish community and is reluctant when it comes to media. He makes a concession, however, when the conversation involves sustainable farming.

“I’ll talk grass any day,” said Mast.

Mast is a grass farmer using something called high intensity grazing, also known as rotational grazing. Herds of animals are left to graze on a small area of pasture, but moved several times a day to new forage, mimicking the way grasslands and grazers naturally interacted long ago.

Rotational grazing conflicts with conventional thinking on livestock and overgrazing. The theory has always been that too many animals on a plot will trample and destroy fertile grounds. But Mast sees evidence that the practice is working and he believes that his small farm is becoming a part of much larger solution for sustainable agriculture.

Third Highest Rainfall Average Recorded in July

Aug 9, 2016
Creative Commons

It’s been a damp summer in many portions of Kentucky, particularly during the month of July.

University of Kentucky Agricultural Meteorologist Matt Dixon says much of Kentucky averaged almost nine inches of rainfall for the month, while west Kentucky averaged more than a foot of rain.  “Officially, it’s the third wettest July that Kentucky has seen on record.  Now, that record goes back all the way back to 1895.”

Dixon says the official data from the National Weather Service for July was released Monday. 

He says many areas of west Kentucky experienced all-time record highs for rainfall amounts in July. 

Dixon says the impact is being felt in the crop fields.  “Numerous crop losses from what I’ve heard from specialists and farmers of tobacco, corn, and soybeans,” noted Dixon.

Dixon says the state’s been sitting under a warm and moist air mass for much of the summer.

Grayson County Sheriff's Office

Sheriff’s deputies in Grayson County have discovered a crop of marijuana planted between rows of corn and they’ve sent a message to the unknown grower on Twitter.

The message is #WeGotYoWeed.

WFIE TV reports deputies found 254 marijuana plants in a cornfield a few hundred feet off Highway 54. The estimated value of the marijuana is $600,000.

The deputies left a handwritten note in the field that says, “Thanks for the weed. If you’d like to claim it, you can come by the office.”

The Grayson County Sheriff's Office said an anonymous tip led deputies to the field. So far, no arrests have been made.

Todd Shoemake / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Heavy rains throughout July have hit Kentucky tobacco hard this season.

University of Kentucky's Andy Bailey says the Kentucky Tennessee Dark Fired commodity holds a unique position in the world, responsible for nearly 90 percent of overall production and this month’s rains could affect growers yields drastically.

“We've got areas depending on the soil advantage class and how much rain it had gotten that losses may be from 5 to 10 percent up to 50 to 60 percent," said Bailey.

The kind of rain affecting this year’s crop is unlike anything Bailey has seen in the last 14 years.

“Tobacco is a more tropical crop that doesn't like saturated soil conditions," said Bailey. "So we've got areas depending on the soil advantage class and how much rain it had gotten that losses may be from 5 to 10 percent up to 50 to 60 percent."

Erica Peterson

A new board to develop strategies for agricultural water use in Kentucky is closer to its first meeting.

The Kentucky Water Resources Board was created during this year’s General Assembly. The board was formed to provide state regulators with recommendations on water use efficiency, as well as develop a water conservation strategy for the state’s agricultural sector.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles supported the legislation and will serve on the newly-formed board. He says water is one of Kentucky’s greatest resources, and the board will focus on making sure the resource is managed responsibly into the future.

“I’m excited that Kentucky is playing a proactive role,” Quarles said. “We’re not reacting to a problem, we’re trying to get out in front of it so we can better align the needs of Kentuckians and balance those with production, agriculture and other industries.”

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