Agriculture

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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.

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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.

Kevin Willis

WKU is enhancing its commitment to offer fresh, locally-sourced food products at its campus dining facilities.

The school announced Monday that it had been named Kentucky’s tenth member of  the Farm to Campus program. The state Department of Agriculture will assist WKU in locating and procuring products sold under the Kentucky Proud label.

Edmonson County farmer Alan Davis says the effort will allow him to expand sales of his hydroponic lettuces and salad greens to the university.

“We think it will let us increase our new production and hire a few more employees. We’re really excited about having a place to bring our fresh produce to.”

WKU Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan says an increasing number of students are interested in having more local, sustainably-grown food choices on campus.

“Each year, I have more and more students make their way to me and say they want to see more local food here. And even more importantly, they want to know what they can do to help get local food on campus, and I love that.”

The Kentucky state Senate is poised to pass a bill that would restore funds to several programs associated with the 1998 tobacco settlement.

Revenue from the tobacco settlement has flagged as fewer people have bought cigarettes in the state, leading to shortfalls in programs dealing with agriculture, early childhood, cancer research and programs that help people quit smoking.

“It’s what our revenue’s based on and as that goes down, the divisions to each one of those agencies goes down also,” said Sen. Paul Hornback, a Republican from Shelbyville who sponsored the bill.

The extra money comes from a new settlement the state made with tobacco companies in 2014. Under the agreement, the state received an additional $110 million in fiscal year 2014 and over the next three years will receive $57.2 million more than the state had budgeted to receive from the tobacco settlement.

The bill also ensures that the money from the settlement can only be appropriated by the legislature. Last year Gov. Steve Beshear used the money to restore $42.5 million in budget cuts to lung cancer research, agriculture and other health assistance.

Several Senate Republicans suggested that Beshear’s use of the funds was a breach of power and that budget appropriations should be left to the legislature.

Eater has this look at a number of wineries in the WKU Public Radio listening area, including some in Cumberland, Pulaski, and Wayne counties.

On a breezy morning next to a cornfield in rural Weld County, Colo., Jimmy Underhill quickly assembles a black and orange drone with four spinning rotors.

"This one just flies itself," he says. "It's fully autonomous."

Underhill is a drone technician with Agribotix, a Colorado-based drone startup that sees farmers as its most promising market. Today he's training his fellow employees how to work the machine in the field.

Flickr/Creative Commons

A new farmers market slated to open this spring in downtown Bowling Green hopes to attract customers who don’t normally visit such establishments.

The new market—which will be known as Southern Kentucky Fresh--will be located near the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center on College Street.

Megan Bailey, with the Warren County Extension Office, says the location is within walking distance of many residents who might not otherwise have access to fresh, locally-grown produce.

“That was one of the purposes of this downtown market—to be able to serve an audience that may not have been able to go to the farmers market before. It’s going to be closer to some of our communities that are using SNAP benefits, and they’ll actually be able to utilize those at the market.”

Credit Katie Brady / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found about half of ground chicken is contaminated with salmonella, and the agency is proposing new standards to reduce the bacteria by 30 percent.

The new rule would mean more testing, which John-Mark Hack says is more expense for the processor. He is a co-founder at Marksbury Farm Market in Garrard County.

“As a company that employs 36 Kentuckians, any additional expense is significant to us,” Hack said. “We’re not a mulit-million dollar, multi-national poultry processor that can easily absorb those kind of expenses.”

The USDA increased standards for whole chickens in 1996, but now knows the chance of salmonella increases as chicken is processed. The further processed meat like chicken wings and breasts make up 80 percent of the chicken available for purchase.

You're in the supermarket gathering ingredients for eggnog and a Christmas Bundt cake, and you're staring at a wall of egg cartons. They're plastered with terms that all sound pretty wonderful: All-Natural, Cage-Free, Free-Range, Farm Fresh, Organic, No Hormones, Omega-3. And so on.

And yet the longer you stare at them, the more confused you become. You are tired and hungry, so you just grab the cheapest one — or the one with the most adorable chicken illustration — and head for the checkout line.

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