Agriculture

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.

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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
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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.

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.”

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.

Rhonda Miller

Gardening season at one Kentucky jail means more than the physical and mental refreshment that comes with digging, planting and enjoying fresh vegetables. 

A Western Kentucky University sociology course is bringing students from the Glasgow campus to dig side-by-side with students who are inmates at the detention center. More than asparagus and potatoes are taking root at the jail garden.

Some of the students are growing new lives.  

Two dozen college students recently shoveled a mountain of mulch into wheelbarrows at the Barren County Detention Center. They could be any group of college students enrolled in this hands-on course from Western Kentucky University called The Sociology of Agriculture and Food. But five of the young women are wearing bright orange T-shirts .

They’re the inmates.

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.

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.

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Kentucky’s Republican gubernatorial candidates disagree specifically on what evidence proves that, according to them, climate change isn’t happening or influenced by human activity. During a debate on CN2 last month, candidates Will T. Scott and Hal Heiner prefaced their statements with “I’m not a scientist, but…” and Matt Bevin called climate science “fluff and theory.” But Agriculture Commissioner James Comer offered the most specific example.

“I do not believe in global warming. I’m the one person whose business and livelihood depends on Mother Nature, so I understand weather patterns,” he said, citing his farming experience. “We’ve had a very severe winter this year with 12-inch snows, so there is no global warming.”

Putting aside the science behind climate change, and the fact that nearly all climate scientists agree both that it’s happening and is influenced by human activity, it was a severe winter this year. Louisville got 27 inches of snow, which is 15 more inches than usual. But there are some key differences between weather and climate, especially as pertains to agriculture, and these nuances are missing in Comer’s remarks.

“Climate determines where we grow crops, weather determines how much we grow,” Jerry Hatfield said. He’s the director of the National Lab for Agriculture and the Environment, which is run by USDA.

He said  the climate is definitely changing. One of the manifestations of that changing climate is weird weather patterns.

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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