Agriculture

Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner is moving forward with the creation of industrial hemp pilot projects in the commonwealth.

The announcement was expected after President Obama signed a Farm Bill into law last week that allows hemp to be grown in the U.S. for research purposes. Staff members in the offices of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and  Attorney General Jack Conway are reviewing the bill’s language regarding pilot projects to make sure whatever happens in Kentucky is within federal guidelines.

Comer, a farmer from Monroe County, says he plans to provide more details on Kentucky's pilot hemp projects at an announcement Feb. 17. He says the projects will be based throughout different parts of the state and will have research focuses with different university affiliations.

Comer wants U.S.  law enforcement agencies to allow certain hemp seeds for the pilot project to be imported. That’s one of the first steps necessary to get any form of hemp farming off the ground in this country.

According to a news release from Commissioner Comer’s office, Attorney General Conway has pledged to work for a waiver from federal drug laws that would eventually allow for the expansion of industrial hemp production for commercial purposes.

The House on Wednesday passed a new five-year compromise farm bill. The bill now moves to the Senate for a vote.

The farm bill — the result of a two-year-long legislative saga — remains massive. The bill contains about $500 billion in funding, most of which is pegged to the food stamp program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Hemp supporters are hailing the federal Farm Bill that Congress will vote on in coming days.  The bipartisan agreement is expected to clear the House and Senate.  The measure contains a provision that allows universities and state agriculture departments to grow hemp for research purposes. 

“Hemp has this long history in the United States, but that history pretty much ended in the 1950s, and all the genetics are lost.  We need to have research on new varieties," says Eric Steenstra, president of  the advocacy group Vote Hemp.   "A lot of things have changed in the last 60 years, and there are new markets and opportunities.”

Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill last year that allows industrial hemp production if a federal ban is lifted. 

“For months, we have tried to get some assurance at the federal level that Kentucky producers can grow industrial hemp without fear of government harassment or prosecution. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in a news release.

Comers hails the Farm Bill provision as a giant step toward restoring the crop, which used to make products ranging from clothes to cosmetics.

Hemp was banned decades ago when the government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

Eleven states, including Tennessee, have introduced hemp legislation this year.

Lots of consumers are smitten with local food, but they're not the only ones. The growing market is also providing an opportunity for less experienced farmers to expand their business and polish their craft.

But they need help, and increasingly it's coming from food hubs, which can also serve as food processing and distribution centers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that there are about 240 of them in more than 40 states plus the District of Columbia.

Lisa Autry

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner is asking you to add one more New Year’s resolution to your list.  James Comer wants families to spend at least ten percent of their food dollars this year on locally grown food.

There are several ways to buy Kentucky Proud products.  Jackson Rolett with the Community Farmer’s Market in Bowling Green says the indoor market provides consumers with fresh produce even in the winter.

"Some of the things we can offer are a lot of squash and greens, a lot of root crops, turnips, beets, carrots, potatoes," explains Rolett.  "We also have a lot of farmers who are diversifying into high tunnel production and greenhouse production, so we have some producers here with red tomatoes.

Another way to buy Kentucky Proud is by visiting certain grocery chains, including Kroger, Walmart, and Whole Foods. 

Kentucky tobacco farmers stand to lose an estimated $12 million because of federal budget cuts related to the sequester. Those cuts are scheduled to hit the next round of price support payments sent to about 100,000 Kentucky tobacco farmers and quota holders.

Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney told WKU Public Radio the payments should be exempt from the federal spending cuts.

"This shouldn't even be considered for sequestration because it's actually a contract that was signed between the tobacco producers and the tobacco manufacturers. Really, the federal government was just holding the money and making the program work."

Haney says members of Kentucky's congressional delegation and farm lobby are teaming up with their counterparts in other states as the next tobacco quota payment nears.

www.glasgow-ky.com

If a Barren County organization has its way, an unoccupied building on Glasgow's downtown square will be turned into a year-round farmers' market.

Sustainable Glasgow has applied for a matching grant from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund to pay for half of the cost of renovating the building.

"It could be our permanent home, it would be on the square, we could have an indoor food court, and we could market more local farm products and farm-to-table prepared foods," Sustainable Glasgow President Jerry Ralston told WKU Public Radio.

The group's plans for the facility would also include a full commercial kitchen and cold storage for produce that could be sold by vendors in the building and wholesaled to local restaurants, schools, and hospitals.

Ralston says he hopes to hear within the next few months whether Sustainable Glasgow's grant application has been approved.

Hemp Proponents Take Their Case to Nation's Capital

Nov 18, 2013

Hemp supporters will rally in Washington D.C. Monday.

Members of Vote Hemp and other groups are descending on the nation’s capital for Hemp Lobby Day to convince Congress to lift a federal ban on the plant for industrial use.

Earlier this year Kentucky lawmakers approved the research and cultivation of hemp, but it has yet to be implemented because the federal government still considers the crop a controlled substance.

The dilemma has pitted two potential gubernatorial candidates against one another: Hemp supporter and state Agricultural Commissioner James Comer, and Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway issued an opinion in September stating that under the federal ban, hemp remains illegal in the state.

“Sometimes it’s my job to say what the law is, not what I want the law to be," said the Attorney General. "I support industrial hemp, I think we can make it work. If it can create jobs, great. Now, is it the panacea for all of Kentucky’s agricultural woes? I don’t know.”

The year 2014 may be one of uncertainty for Kentucky’s farmers.

The federal Tobacco Transition Payment Program will end in January. For 10 years, the program has given farmers across the nation money to diversify their crops away from tobacco. Earlier this year, a federal court found that Kentucky's management of Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funds was “non-diligent.” As a penalty a percentage of the payment will be withheld.

Roger Thomas is executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. He told lawmakers Wednesday the reduction could affect programs such as Kentucky Proud and state-supported farmer's markets.

“I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic that the programs that I have mentioned here today, the good programs that have such a tremendous impact on not just agriculture, but Kentucky as a whole, that these programs will be able to continue in the future as they had in the past.”

Thomas said he would have a clearer picture of the effect that reductions in federal funding will have by March next year.

Attorney General Jack Conway is advising Kentucky leaders that industrial hemp farming remains illegal in the commonwealth.

Conway issued an advisory letter on Wednesday to Gov. Steve Beshear, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and others to clarify current law related to hemp. The letter appears to deflate hopes of hemp farming proponents who have said they'd like to begin planting next year.

Kentucky lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow farmers to grow the crop if the federal government ever lifts a longstanding ban. But Attorney General Conway said that ban remains firmly in place.

The state agriculture department recently issued a news release saying it was instructed by the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to begin drawing up regulations for hemp farming in the commonwealth. That came on the heels of comments by Justice Department officials that the federal government had no intention of prosecuting hemp farmers.

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