Agriculture

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.


Rhonda J Miller

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number of farms in Kentucky has decreased by 16,000 over the past 20 years.

That means many people who once worked on those farms have to find other ways to make a living.

That’s the mission of the Kentucky Farmworker Programs - to help seasonal and migrant farmworkers find retraining and jobs.

At the Metalsa plant in Hopkinsville, Victor Radford is eager to get started on his day’s work helping to make frames for pickup trucks.

“I’m on the repair station today, weld repair station. So as the frames comes down the line, if there’s any weld gaps or porosity I’ll fix it for ‘em and keep on sending it.” “Weld gaps or what?”  “Gaps or porosity, like little bubbles in the weld from the robots, I repair it and keep it going.”

Jeanna Glisson

Jeanna Glisson has two lives: her life before August 20th, 2007, and her life after. That day is so vivid, Glisson can still hear the sounds of her son’s feet coming down the stairs.

“I remember Derek when he got up that morning, he was on the phone talking to my dad. He was excited,” Glisson said.

It was the first day of harvest at Swift Farms in Murray, Kentucky, and Derek couldn’t wait to get to the corn fields. Glisson remembers it feeling like the hottest day of the year. It was a Monday, she said.

“He looked forward to it. I remember him getting in the shower. And then after that...” Her voice trails off. She remembers that the phone rang. It was her brother. Derek had been hurt. Before Glisson or any of the emergency responders could get to the farm, it was too late.

The livelihoods of farmers and ranchers are intimately tied to weather and the environment. But they may not be able to depend on research conducted by the government to help them adapt to climate change if the Trump administration follows through on campaign promises to shift federal resources away from studying the climate.

The University of Louisville’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy is planting more hemp this year at the school’s Belknap Campus.

This is officially the center’s second hemp crop — the first was planted last August and yielded a few dozen pounds of plants. This year, there will be two different varieties of hemp growing, as well as kenaf. Kenaf is an African plant used for fiber and oils.

“Having the crops grow on campus actually raises awareness about the research that we have going on at Conn Center,” said assistant director Andrew Marsh.

Kentucky Association of Food Banks

The Kentucky Farms to Food Banks program is adding a new source of protein to help families in need get balanced nutrition. 

Tamara Sandberg is executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. She says there have been requests from food banks to increase healthy proteins.

“For the first time in addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables, we’re reaching out to egg producers in Kentucky that might have extras that they are not able to sell otherwise, that they’re willing to provide to us to give to food banks.”

The program is in the process of setting a fair price that helps producers offset the cost of providing eggs to food banks.

Wikimedia Commons

Farmers in the Ohio Valley are waiting to see how President Trump’s choice to lead the Agriculture Department might affect their fortunes. Concerns over trade have held up a confirmation vote for nominee Sonny Perdue, and trade is also on the minds of regional growers.

Farmers here have been big winners under the North American Free Trade Agreement, and while farm country voted overwhelmingly for Trump, his talk about scrapping NAFTA has farmers like Jed Clark nervous.

Clark and his father farm 5,000 acres in western Kentucky’s Graves County, where they grow corn, wheat, soybeans and tobacco. Right now, Clark is thinking mostly about corn. Yellow corn is used mostly to feed livestock and the white corn is for human consumption. One of every four rows of it will go to Mexico.

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