Agriculture

Nicole Erwin

Roberto Gonzales and six other workers came from Nayarit, Mexico, to work on a Garrard County, Kentucky, tobacco farm using a guest worker program called the H-2A visa. The Department of Labor program guarantees a wage in Kentucky of $10.92 an hour. But Gonzales said the workers were only getting between $3 and $8 per hour. So they went on strike.

Within a month the workers had won a settlement. Gonzales knew what he was owed because it is all in a contract through the guest worker program.

Flickr/Creative Commons

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says Kentucky farmers continue to gain more access to major grocery chains. 

Quarles says the Kentucky Proud program is expanding to help the state’s beef producers. 

A plan is underway to process beef cattle in Wolfe County, and distribute the ground beef to more than 80 Kroger stores in Kentucky.

Michael Durham, Bat Conservation International

Bats have a bit of an image problem. You probably saw some Halloween decorations recently featuring flying, fanged creatures of the night. But conservationists say bats are actually very helpful animals, saving farmers in the Ohio Valley region alone hundreds of millions of dollars simply by eating harmful insects.

Now bats need some humans to return the favor and help to halt the spread of a deadly disease.

 

The bat disease called White Nose Syndrome was first spotted in New York about ten years ago and researchers say it is rapidly moving across the country decimating many bat populations.

In a normal year, Kevin Bradley, a professor of weed science at the University of Missouri, would have spent his summer testing new ways to control a troublesome little plant called water hemp.

This has not been a normal year.

Jeanna Glisson

The Kentucky Farm Bureau is hoping to raise awareness of the important role migrant labor plays in making the state’s agriculture system work.

Joe Cain is director of the bureau’s commodity division, and is the featured speaker at an event Tuesday night in Muhlenberg County.

He says he hopes any changes to the nation’s immigration laws will include updates to the H2A program, which allows agriculture employers to bring workers to the U.S. for seasonal work.

USDA/Bob Nichols

After serving five years in the Navy Tyler Dunn has returned home to Hickman, Kentucky. These days, if he isn’t at work at the local liquor store or completing assignments for a business degree, you might find him surrounded by one of several stray cats he saved from a parking lot.

It’s hard to reconcile this image of Dunn -- military veteran, serious student, and sensitive pet owner -- with another fact about his life. Nearly ten years ago he was fired by Tyson Foods, in Union, Tennessee, for animal cruelty. 


Applications are now being accepted from those who want to participate in the next growing season for the state’s industrial hemp research pilot program.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says he’s hoping the state can continue the progress it made this year, when participants grew more than 3,200 acres of hemp.

That’s the most ever grown under the state’s industrial hemp research program that began in 2014.

Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Talks on renegotiating NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, are set for later this month and farm country is concerned about the potential fallout from a trade dispute. Pork producers are especially nervous about the implications of a threat from President Trump to place a 20 percent tariff on Mexican food imports.

"Mexico is one of the largest markets for pork from the United States,” said Jimmy Tosh, owner of Tosh Farms, the 24th largest pork production company in the country. “I think if Mexico doesn't get favorable treatment we may have a 20 percent tariff imposed on our pork going to Mexico."


Nicole Erwin

Jacob Goodman drove toward a soybean field in western Kentucky in hopes of seeing something different. Most of the 2,500 acres of soybeans his family farms here in Fulton County haven’t been looking so good, but trees that line Running Slough River protect this plot.

“Where I’m gonna take you to right now, we have one field that hasn’t been affected,” he said. 

It’s been a week since he last checked this area. Goodman jumped out of the truck and approached a plant.


Brent Deppe is taking me on a tour of the farm supply business, called Key Cooperative, that he helps to manage in Grinnell, Iowa. We step though the back door of one warehouse, and our view of the sky is blocked by a gigantic round storage tank, painted white.

"This is the liquid nitrogen tank," Deppe explains. "It's a million-and-a-half gallon tank."

Nitrogen is the essential ingredient for growing corn and most other crops. Farmers around here spread it on their fields by the truckload.

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Hemp farmers and processors in Murray presented progress and problems in growing the crop to U.S. Senator Rand Paul on Thursday. Paul is in the region as part of a tour discussing healthcare options and made a stop in Murray to talk hemp ahead of visits to other communities. Afterwords, he also commented on North Korea and health care reform options.

Joseph Kelly operates West Kentucky Hemp LLC. and works with Kentucky 21st Century Agri. He led much of the presentation, briefing Paul on some of their processes and procedures, ambitions and challenges. Kelly and others involved in hemp described its various uses: leaves (producing CBD), floor material (buds) for extracting oil, seeds (as grain and pressed for oil) and other uses involving the fiber.

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.


Wikimedia Commons

Predicting the imminent arrival of an insect species that could devastate Kentucky’s sweet sorghum crops, the state Department of Agriculture has declared an emergency and is letting the commonwealth’s farmers apply a new pesticide to protect their plants. But the pesticide in question — Sivanto Prime — has come under fire from environmental groups who say it hasn’t been properly vetted and could pose a risk to bees and other animals.

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.


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