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.