Agriculture

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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.

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.

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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
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.

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.

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