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.
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 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.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says, realistically, Kentucky is two years away from growing industrial hemp.
In the meantime, he’s been talking with processors and companies interested in using hemp in their products. Toyota has two plants in Bardstown and Lebanon that manufacture dashboards and door panels. Comer says Toyota would most likely become a hemp customer.
"They use a fiber similar to industrial hemp called kanaff. Kanaff is a subtropical plant and it will not grow in Kentucky," explains Comer. "The factories in Bardstown and Lebanon import the kanaff fiber from Indonesia. They would rather grow it in Kentucky next to their factory than import from Indonesia."
The Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill this year that sets up the regulatory framework for growing hemp if he becomes legalized on the federal level.
Kentucky's Agriculture Commissioner says Bowling Green’s new traveling farmer’s market is a concept he hopes will catch on statewide.
Starting next spring, a retro-fitted bus will travel to areas where the low-income have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The mobile market will also accept forms ofgovernment assistance.
Commissioner James Comer checked out the market this week during a stop in Bowling Green.
“Low income and elderly people have issues finding fresh food," said Comer. "There are food deserts all across Kentucky in both cities and rural communities, and a food desert by definition is a place where you have to travel a long distance to get fresh produce.”
Comer said having more mobile farmer’s markets might be a step toward reversing some of the state’s chronic health problems.
Kentucky food prices are at an all time high, according to the Farm Bureau’s quarterly marketplace report.
The state saw an increase of 5.7 percent increase in September from the previous quarter. The Farm Bureau’s Dan Smaldone says the jump is partly due to last year’s drought that affected grain farmers and had a ripple effect on other parts of the system.
He says the numbers should not be a cause of great concern, as Kentucky has experienced downward or stagnant trends in recent quarters while the national numbers have continued to rise.
“I think when we look at one snapshot in time it’s hard to say that we have an issue on our hands with food prices. So we have to be cautious not to ring too many alarms with this.”
Smaldone says the last time the Farm Bureau saw a food price increase over 5 percent was in 2008.
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.
Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission is serving notice to the federal government that it plans to move forward with creating regulations for hemp production in the commonwealth.
A news release from the state agriculture department says staff members have been instructed to begin the process of writing rules for the development of the long-banned crop. The state’s industrial hemp commission is calling for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Senator Rand Paul to write a letter to the U.S. Justice Department to “make Kentucky’s intentions known.”
Recent changes to state law have opened the door to future hemp production in Kentucky, although growing the crop is still technically illegal under federal rules.
But Commissioner Comer is pointing to recent statements by a Justice Department official who said the federal government has no intentions of prosecuting hemp farmers.
"Surely...no entity will seek to throw up a government obstacle to moving forward with another opportunity for Kentucky farmers and for manufacturing jobs."