Agriculture

In Kentucky, High Hopes For Hemp

Jun 27, 2016
Nicole Erwin, Ohio Valley ReSource

This story is from the Ohio Valley ReSource, a journalism partnership that aims to rethink how we use our resources in a shifting economy. With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, seven public media outlets in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia — led by Louisville Public Media — formed the ReSource to strengthen coverage of the area’s economic transition and the social changes that come with it. Read more here.

Farmers throughout the Ohio Valley want to revive a crop that was once a staple in the region: hemp. After a ban that lasted more than half a century, the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp in research programs. Growers and processors in Kentucky are aggressively putting that research program to work in hopes of winning a share of the booming market for hemp products.

Hemp cooking oil, nutritional supplements, and more line the back wall of a supermarket in Lexington where cashier Emily King rang up a customer’s purchase.

“Tons of people buy hemp oil,” King said. “We have hemp hearts and other products. We’ve definitely seen an increase in hemp product sales.” The store recently wrapped up its first “hemp week” promotion.

Kentucky Association of Food Banks

A Kentucky program that increases the amount of produce in food banks is paying farmers more for their crops.

The Kentucky Farms to Food Banks program wants to make sure farmers can cover the cost of growing, picking and getting their produce to food banks.

So the program is compensating farmers based on wholesale produce prices in Atlanta, Chicago and St. Louis, instead of on Kentucky markets.

Tamara Sandberg is executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. She says farmers will likely be paid 46 cents a pound for tomatoes this season, up from 30 cents a pound last year.

“Another real popular crop has been yellow squash. Last year we paid an average of 25 cents a pound and this year it will be closer to 39 cents a pound,” says Sandberg.  “Sweet corn went up a lot, too, yes. Last year it was 17 cents a pound and this year we should be paying closer to 43 cents a pound.”

The Farm to Food Banks programs buys produce that farmers can’t sell to grocery stores because it has minor blemishes. The program increases the amount of produce available for Kentucky food banks. 

Even though it’s early in the season, Farms to Food Banks has already begun expanding this year.  Last year 302 farmers took part in the program, and they are likely to continue in 2016. So far this year, 26 new farmers have signed on.

Sandberg says farmers from 58 counties are taking part in the program. 

Changes in food stamp requirements are causing some area food banks to prepare for an increased demand.

Up to 9,000 people in eight Kentucky counties could be impacted by the changes the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that went into effect May 1.

Glenn Roberts is executive director of Tri-State Food Bank in Evansville. It serves parts of Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. In Kentucky, it serves Henderson and Daviess counties.

Roberts says one Kentucky program is well-positioned to help stock food banks with healthy produce. It’s called Farms to Food Banks. 

“It’s a program that’s funded by the Kentucky state government in which farmers are compensated, they’re paid for what’s called their number two produce,” says Roberts. “This is the produce that doesn’t make it to the grocery store shelves.”

Roberts says the change in the food stamp requirements comes at a time when the growing and harvesting season could encourage more farmers to stretch the value of their produce.

A western Kentucky business is bringing industrial hemp to market. 

Kentucky Hemp Works has opened a processing facility in Christian County.  Owner Katie Moyer says the small, family-run business is taking hemp seed and turning it into oil that can be used in a number of products, including salves and lip balms. 

"Quite frankly, a lot of farmers aren't going to want to put seeds in the ground if they don't think there's a market for it," Moyer told WKU Public Radio.  "We need to develop those markets and show farmers and elected officials that there is a market for these things."

According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the state has 35 processors participating in a pilot program allowed under the federal farm bill.  Kentucky Hemp Works is the first to locate in western Kentucky.

Kentucky began growing hemp in 2014 for research purposes after a decades-long federal ban.

More than 4,000 acres of hemp seed will go into the ground in Kentucky this spring.

Growers will oversee industrial hemp pilot projects for the third straight year. They hope the crop will eventually create jobs and marketing opportunities. 

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says the state must show the crop is viable by attracting not just farmers, but processors.

"We need to make sure we have processors who are willing to buy industrial hemp and turn it into a marketable product," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "If we can continue to show good faith progress on that front, it's going to make it easier to work with our federal delegation to de-couple it from its cousin one day."

Kentucky was a major hemp producer in the early 20th century, but the crop was later outlawed by the federal government because of its relation to marijuana. 

The 2014 farm bill approved by Congress gave states and universities permission to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. 

Hemp can be used in a wide range of products, including cosmetics, paper, clothing, and auto parts.

Whitney Jones, WKMS

Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program is expanding as it rolls into its third year.

This year, officials are looking to further develop the state’s hemp market. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says hemp processors are an important part of the pilot program.

“It’s important that these processors get a business plan that works and get it linked up with farmers,” Quarles said. “That way if, and when, congress releases [industrial hemp] as a legal crop to grow, a lot of people already have a market they can look toward and they’re not jumping into something head first without having someone to sell it to.”

Quarles says hemp researchers have identified the need to develop different methods of harvesting hemp.

“Depending on what the use of industrial hemp is for, it needs to be harvested at a different time in its life cycle. And that’s the sort of research that those agricultural researchers here at Murray know better. And, in fact, we may have to invent new equipment,” Quarles said.

Farm Contractors Balk At Obamacare Requirements

Feb 9, 2016

Obamacare is putting the agricultural industry in a tizzy.

Many contractors who provide farm labor and must now offer workers health insurance are complaining loudly about the cost in their already low-margin business.

Some are also concerned that the forms they must file with the federal government under the Affordable Care Act will bring immigration problems to the fore. About half of the farm labor workforce in the U.S. is undocumented.

Flickr/Creative Commons/M. Eaves

Thieves are taking advantage of the market demand for rustic and weathered wood that’s popular for furniture and flooring. Barn wood is being  stolen from farms in south central Kentucky.  

Warren County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Stephen Harmon says some of the wood has been stolen from barns in the Hadley and Richardsville areas of the county.

“We’ve had three calls in the last 60 days from farmers who noticed barn wood that’s been stolen from their barns in rural parts of the county. The barn wood is very expensive and that’s what’s drawing them. A lot of home décor items are made from this wood.”

Harmon says so far no arrests have been made.

So what we’re wanting farmers to do, especially if their barn is not on the property on which they live, is to kind of survey their barns, make sure that wood is not stolen. That way we can get a report from anyone that has barn wood that’s stolen, so we can hopefully follow up on leads and make some arrests in relation to these thefts.” 

Harmon says he has heard from other sheriff’s departments that barn wood is also being stolen in nearby counties.

Flickr/creative commons/Jayme Frye

Kentucky poultry farmers are on high alert and taking increased precautions to avoid a strain of bird flu that’s hit poultry in Dubois County, Indiana. The H7N8 strain of bird flu has caused 400,000 turkeys and chickens to be euthanized in the southwestern part of the state.  

Kentucky Poultry Federation Executive Director Jamie Guffey says no cases of this strain of bird flu have been found in commercial operations in Kentucky. 

But Guffey says Kentucky poultry farmers have been told to take steps aimed at avoiding bird flu infections.

“We’ve put all the poultry operations in Kentucky on the highest alert, as far as biosecurity goes. We have basically locked down the farms so that only emergency personnel are allowed, in hopes that we will contain the disease and not allow it to spread.”

Guffey says poultry farmers in Kentucky are following increased biosecurity guidelines.    

“We are using footbaths, changing footwear when we go to a poultry farm, changing clothes. We’re not sharing equipment between poultry farms. We’re basically doing everything we can to prevent the spread of the disease.” 

Guffey says this strain of bird flu was found in a duck harvested by a hunter in Lyon County, Kentucky in the past month. He says that’s why it’s critical for Kentucky poultry farms to take every precaution to prevent the spread of the disease.

Poultry is a $1.2 billion industry in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s new agriculture commissioner says he will pick up where his predecessor left off when it comes to industrial hemp.  Ryan Quarles was in Bowling Green Friday for the Kentucky Commodity Conference. 

Commissioner Quarles says Kentucky is re-learning a crop that has been lost through three generations.  But pilot projects have shown that hemp can grow well here.  More than 900 acres of the crop were grown in 2015.  Quarles says the state must continue to develop a market for the crop.

"Right now, Kentucky is the best positioned state in the entire country for industrial hemp and it's important that we continue to encourage processors to locate in Kenutcky," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "Right now we have over two dozen."

The crop can be used in a wide range of products from paper to pharmaceuticals. 

The state remains a partner with Kentucky universities to grow and research hemp.  Efforts continue in Washington to legalize full-scale hemp production.

Andy Alford

The National Agricultural Statistics Service predicts that soybean production in Kentucky  will be up 10 percent this year over last year.

But Edmonson County farmer Andy Alford  says his 700 acres of soybeans aren’t likely to meet that predicted record-breaking crop this year, mostly because of heavy spring rains that delayed planting.

Alford says although the weather differs somewhat in regions across the state, he thinks the predictions of 50 bushels per acre are too high.

“I would tend to disagree with that number with what I know right now," said Alford. "I just don’t think the state can get that.  If you factor in all the late planted beans, I think they’re going to pull the state soybean yields down.”

Soybeans are the largest crop in Kentucky in terms of acreage.

"We planted more acres than usual in beans and I've talked to several other producers who have done the same," said Alford. "But I'm not sure that the late  beans can produce enough bushels to make up for how late they are and the lack of yield they're going to have to actually make it a record crop.

The economic impact of Kentucky’s soybean crop in 2014 was $1.1 billion.  

In addition to being used for animal feed, soybeans are used for industrial oil and biodiesel, as well as food products such as tofu, soy milk, cooking oils and salad dressing.

Bevin, Conway to Talk Farm Policy in Louisville

Jul 23, 2015

Kentucky's race for governor is taking off this week as the Democratic and Republican nominees are scheduled to debate farm policy in front of the state's agriculture leaders on Thursday.

Republican nominee Matt Bevin and Democratic nominee Jack Conway are scheduled to participate in a Measure the Candidates Forum sponsored by the Kentucky Farm Bureau. It will be the second time the two candidates have appeared together at a publicized event.

The forum is not open to the public but will be streamed on the Farm Bureau's website at http://kyfb.com/livestream.

Barbetorte, Wikimedia Commons

Kentucky farmers are planting more than 1,700 acres of hemp  as part of the second year of the state’s industrial hemp research program, with 256 of those acres in west Kentucky.

State Kentucky Industrial Hemp Coordinator Adam Watson said this year there are 1,742 acres approved for hemp, up from 33 acres last year. Watson said the significant increase in acreage was possible because of new processors coming to the table.

“A lot of processors have been eyeing hemp for a long time. But of course the federal status basically prevented anyone from being able to work with it. So it’s something that they’ve been on the sidelines for a while. And when Kentucky was able to give them a home and give them the ability to move forward with their work, they were very eager to work with us,” Watson said.

Watson said 9 western counties have acres approved for industrial hemp. He said hemp would fit well in western Kentucky’s large scale farming of agronomic crops, but wouldn’t replace staples like corn or soy any time soon.

Bill Clift of Caldwell County is planting 30 acres on his farm. Clift said he was interested growing hemp because of the possibility of getting in on the ground floor of a new and prosperous industry.

Kentucky Restrict Sale of Birds Amid Flu Outbreak

Jun 11, 2015

The state veterinarian has banned the sale of birds at flea markets and swap meets to protect Kentucky's poultry industry amid an avian flu outbreak.

The ban is just one of several restrictions state veterinarian Robert C. Stout announced Thursday. Private sales with direct farm-to-farm movement are still allowed. Other restrictions include only allowing birds to be sold in Kentucky if they come from a farm certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan and limiting shows and fairs to in-state birds.

About 50 million birds have been infected with the avian flu in 21 states since December. Two birds have tested positive for the flu in Kentucky. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk to humans is low.

Kentucky's poultry industry earned about $1.2 billion in farm cash receipts in 2013.

Whitney Jones/WKMS

Around 120 Kentucky farmers will grow hemp this year as the state enters its second of five years of hemp research and testing as allowed under the Farm Bill.

Adam Watson is the industrial hemp program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. He says though growing hemp commercially isn’t legal yet, there’s growing interest in the crop.

“We’re still at the beginning stages of research,” he said. “Today we can’t sit and tell you this is the most economical way to produce it or this is the best crop to be growing it for like seed versus fiber but what we have learned is there is a wide interest from industry.”

Watson says the hemp can be sold to processors to make hemp seed oil or cake that can be used as food. He adds that like in all agricultural endeavors there is risk based on weather and the market, but he says the hemp is such a small percentage of the farmers’ production that there’s little risk involved.

“We’re still some years away from having a full blown industrial hemp industry,” Watson said. “It’s our hope and that of Commissioner Comer that with the completion of the Farm Bill five year program we’ll see an allowance at the federal level that will allow it to be legal.”

Watson says 326 farmers applied to grow the crop, and he is still working to finalize the farmers that will be allowed to do so.

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