Agriculture

On Aug. 21, a 70-mile-wide ribbon from Oregon to South Carolina called the "path of totality" will experience a total solar eclipse. Large swaths of farmland in the Great Plains and Midwest will be plunged into darkness for 2 1/2 minutes, and temperatures will drop about 10 degrees in the middle of the day.

But as millions of people look up at the sky, many Midwest scientists will turn their eyes and cameras toward the plants and animals on the ground. And they're not sure what will happen.

James Comer, Twitter

Kentucky’s First District Congressman, James Comer, is making good on a promise to file legislation to reclassify industrial hemp from a controlled substance to an agriculture crop.

Comer filed the  Industrial Hemp Farming Act Friday. He says it is his attempt  keep the Department of Justice “off the farm.” Hemp is only legal in states with certified industrial hemp pilot programs like Kentucky.

The federal government currently classifies hemp as Schedule 1 substance due to its similarities to marijuana. Comer was instrumental in bringing the hemp industry to the state as the former agriculture commissioner.  Comer has said “We’ve proven it’s not a drug. The next step is to begin to deregulate.”

Rhonda J Miller

Migrant workers who come to Kentucky under the H2A visa program are a critical part of the agricultural workforce.

The Bluegrass State ranks seventh among the 50 states for the number farm workers who come under this visa, according to the Office of Foreign Labor Certification.

Phil and Jan Holliday's farm in Logan County has two workers from Mexico who have been coming for more than two decades, and they’re bringing the next generation.                     

The rows of green tobacco stretch to the horizon under a clear blue Kentucky sky. It’s midday and it’s hot – around 90 degrees.


HopAlong Farm in Howard, OH

The acres devoted to growing hops doubled in the U.S. in just the last five years and the trade group Hop Growers of America estimates that 95 percent of that market belongs to farmers along the West Coast. But the craft beer craze is changing the direction for hop farms by generating demand for more locally sourced ingredients, and Ohio Valley farmers like Wes Cole want in on the action.

On a small incline behind Cole’s homestead in Hickory, Kentucky, sits a tenth of an acre plot of Mt. Hood hops, a variety that’s tolerant to the crop disease downy mildew.

“This spot is about as windy as it could be. If you don't believe me, try folding up a tarp out here. It will make you lose your religion,” Cole said, as he explained why a cool, dry location is critical in hop production. The plants will grow vertically, often requiring 25 feet or more of support in thick twine for the bines, or flexible stems, to wrap themselves around as they produce the cone-shaped grains used for bittering beer.


Jeanna Glisson

Jeanna Glisson has two lives: her life before August 20th, 2007, and her life after. That day is so vivid, Glisson can still hear the sounds of her son’s feet coming down the stairs.

“I remember Derek when he got up that morning, he was on the phone talking to my dad. He was excited,” Glisson said.

It was the first day of harvest at Swift Farms in Murray, Kentucky, and Derek couldn’t wait to get to the corn fields. Glisson remembers it feeling like the hottest day of the year. It was a Monday, she said.

“He looked forward to it. I remember him getting in the shower. And then after that...” Her voice trails off. She remembers that the phone rang. It was her brother. Derek had been hurt. Before Glisson or any of the emergency responders could get to the farm, it was too late.

The livelihoods of farmers and ranchers are intimately tied to weather and the environment. But they may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

The University of Louisville’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy is planting more hemp this year at the school’s Belknap Campus.

This is officially the center’s second hemp crop — the first was planted last August and yielded a few dozen pounds of plants. This year, there will be two different varieties of hemp growing, as well as kenaf. Kenaf is an African plant used for fiber and oils.

“Having the crops grow on campus actually raises awareness about the research that we have going on at Conn Center,” said assistant director Andrew Marsh.

Wikimedia Commons Corey Coyle

While exact statistics are unknown, it’s estimated that about 60 percent of farmworkers in the United States are undocumented immigrants. But amid growing labor shortages in large agricultural states and President Donald Trump’s promise to assemble a “deportation task force,” farmers nationwide have voiced concerns that stricter immigration laws could break the backbone of America’s agricultural economy.

For that reason, proposed legislation called the Agricultural Worker Program Act, now widely referred to as the “Blue Card Act,” has garnered a lot of national media attention of late.

Kentucky Association of Food Banks

The Kentucky Farms to Food Banks program is adding a new source of protein to help families in need get balanced nutrition. 

Tamara Sandberg is executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. She says there have been requests from food banks to increase healthy proteins.

“For the first time in addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables, we’re reaching out to egg producers in Kentucky that might have extras that they are not able to sell otherwise, that they’re willing to provide to us to give to food banks.”

The program is in the process of setting a fair price that helps producers offset the cost of providing eggs to food banks.

Wikimedia Commons

Farmers in the Ohio Valley are waiting to see how President Trump’s choice to lead the Agriculture Department might affect their fortunes. Concerns over trade have held up a confirmation vote for nominee Sonny Perdue, and trade is also on the minds of regional growers.

Farmers here have been big winners under the North American Free Trade Agreement, and while farm country voted overwhelmingly for Trump, his talk about scrapping NAFTA has farmers like Jed Clark nervous.

Clark and his father farm 5,000 acres in western Kentucky’s Graves County, where they grow corn, wheat, soybeans and tobacco. Right now, Clark is thinking mostly about corn. Yellow corn is used mostly to feed livestock and the white corn is for human consumption. One of every four rows of it will go to Mexico.

Flickr/Creative Commons/ Gertrude K

Purple flowers across many fields in Kentucky and Indiana are more than flowering weeds.  An agriculture extension agent says those purple blooms are a sign of climate change and the increasingly unpredictable weather that farmers have to deal with.

Jon Neufelder is an educator with the Purdue University Extension Office in Posey County, Indiana. He said the flowers are purple deadnettle and henbit and they’re a sign of a warm winter and an early spring.

“We have them every year, but this year because of the warm February, they started flowering a lot earlier. So we’re seeing them a lot earlier. Usually we don’t see them until around April and by then the farmers have pretty well killed them off because they’ve started spraying for production.”

Neufelder said the warm winter has caused overall growth to be about two weeks ahead of schedule.

Flickr/Creative Commons/David Duran

A case of avian influenza has been detected in a commercial poultry flock in western Kentucky. 

A national veterinary lab confirmed the presence of H7N9, a low pathogenic avian flu.  The virus was detected last week at a Christian County commercial poultry operation during a routine pre-slaughter test. 

State Veterinarian Robert Stout says there were no clinical signs of disease in the birds.  The affected area is under quarantine and the flock of about 22,000 hens was euthanized as a precaution.  Flocks within a six-mile radius of the farm are also under surveillance. 

Owensboro Regional Farmers Market

As farmers across Kentucky gear up for growing season, the Farms to Food Banks program is already getting calls from some who are interested in selling a portion of this year’s produce to help families in need.

The statewide project buys not-quite-perfect or extra produce and distributes it to more than 500 organizations. Those groups pass the food along to families in their region. 

Last year 385 farmers in 67 Kentucky counties participated in the effort.

Sally Nash of Daviess County said she sells mainly at the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market.

Stopping Superbugs: A New Farm Rule Targets Antibiotic Resistance

Jan 23, 2017
Nicole Erwin

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control offers a stark example of the declining power of medicine’s most important weapons against infectious disease. The CDC noted that a patient who died at a Nevada hospital last year had an infection that was resistant to 26 different antibiotic treatments. That’s essentially the entire antibiotic arsenal doctors had.

There’s an antibiotic problem in the U.S. Some just aren’t working anymore as resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs,” are growing. Part of the problem lies with farms, where massive amounts of antibiotics have been used on livestock, including animals that aren’t even sick.


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.

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