Agriculture

The air in Richwood, W.Va., is saturated with the smell of ramps — a pungent, garlicky, peppery smell so strong that it eclipses almost everything else in the room. Under this smell there's the faint aroma of bacon grease, in which the ramps have been fried. They're served with brown beans and ham.

As hundreds of people wait in line for their meal, local songwriter John Wyatt plays his Richwood Ramp Song, including this verse:

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner says he’s looking forward to a court hearing Friday over his department’s lawsuit against the federal government.

James Comer this week sued three government agencies—the U.S. Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection--as well as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, over a 250 pound shipment of hemp seeds that is being held by federal customs officials in Louisville.

Language in the latest federal Farm Bill allows certain states that have adopted a regulatory framework to plant hemp for the first time in decades, and Kentucky passed a law allowing pilot hemp planting projects run by state-funded universities.

But Comer says federal agents in Louisville have continued to come up with reasons why the latest hemp shipment must be held. The Commissioner says a hearing is set for 1 p.m. eastern time Friday before a federal judge in Louisville.

“We believe that it’s a good sign, that we’re going to be in front of a federal judge this soon after filing a motion," the Monroe County native told WKU Public Radio. "So, hopefully we can get the seeds, because these seeds are going to the University of Kentucky. It’s not like these seeds are going to some shady, upstart business somewhere.”

Kentucky's first legal planting of hemp seeds in decades is being postponed.

Officials from the Kentucky Agriculture Department, Kentucky State University, and pro-hemp groups were scheduled to plant hemp seeds Friday in Rockcastle County as part of a pilot project following the recent relaxing of state and federal rules regarding the crop.

But Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Thursday that the event has been postponed following a standoff between his department and federal officials over a detained shipment containing 250 pounds of hemp seeds.

The Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal government, in an effort to get the shipment released by customs officials in Louisville.

Kentucky lawmakers passed a law allowing hemp to be planted as part of university-based research projects. Hemp advocates say the crop's fiber and oilseed can be used to make rope, paper, bio-fuels, cosmetics, and healthy foods.

In 1970, the federal government placed hemp on the list of Schedule One drugs, making it illegal to grow.

The Kentucky Agriculture Department is taking three federal agencies to court.  Commissioner James Comer filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Louisville Wednesday seeking the release of 250 pounds of hemp seeds.

Defendants in the suit include the U.S. Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The seeds have been held up in Louisville for more than a week.  The DEA claims the state needs a special permit, which might months to receive.  Agriculture experts say the seeds need to be in the ground by June 1 for a normal growing season.

"Commissioner Comer is tired of playing around with this, and we've expended a great deal of time and energy on these projects and we're going to move forward with them," says Comer's Chief of Staff Holly VonLuerhte.

VonLuerht says a permit is unnecessary. She points to the federal farm bill, which allows Kentucky to plant the seeds for research.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to force Customs officials to release the Italian hemp seeds for planting in Kentucky this spring.

Updated at 4:55 p.m: 

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture will not have to go to court to win the release of 250 pounds of hemp seeds.  The seeds, imported from Italy, are being held by U.S. Customs officials in Louisville. Staff at the Agriculture Department spent much of Tuesday wrangling over the phone with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.  The DEA was holding the hemp seeds, despite language in the Farm Bill allowing Kentucky to import the seeds for research projects.  By the end of the day, the DEA agreed to release the seeds by the end of the week. 

Original post:

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is giving a federal agency until the end of the day on Tuesday  release 250 pounds of hemps seeds or else be taken to court. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration is holding the seeds, which have been imported for research projects with some Kentucky universities.  The seeds, shipped from Italy, are being held at a UPS warehouse in Louisville. 

The DEA argues the seeds can’t be released without a special permit, regardless of language in the Farm Bill. 

"If you will look at the Farm Bill, it starts off saying 'Not withstanding any other federal law.'  In spite of these other federal laws, Congress intended that we still be allowed to do this," says Holly VonLuerhte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.  "Under DEA's interpretation,  we have the authority to conduct pilot programs but we don't have the authority to get the seeds, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever."

Obtaining a DEA permit could take several months, making it impossible to plant the seeds this year. 

"We've been told by agricultural experts if we don't have this industrial hemp seed in the ground by June 1, then the likelihood is that it won't come up," adds VonLuerhte.

The state is prepared to go to federal court in Louisville Wednesday and ask a judge to force U.S. Customs officials to release the seeds.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has received one shipment of seeds that came from within the U.S.  Those seeds are supposed to be planted for a research project in Rockcastle County on Friday.

A shipment of hemp seeds from Italy has made it to Kentucky, but there’s a problem.

Customs officials in Louisville have so far refused to release the 250 pound shipment to the state Agriculture Department.

While Kentucky law was recently changed to allow the growing of hemp for university-run research projects, federal customs officials are still leery of signing off on the seed shipments. State officials say the confusion is holding up hemp seeds from getting to project locations in the commonwealth.

“I spoke with a customs official in Chicago, and once I advised her of what the law is, and what we’re doing at the Department of Agriculture, customs in Chicago released the seeds to Louisville, and now it’s just a question of getting everyone on the same page,” said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

VonLuehrte told WKU Public Radio Thursday afternoon that she thinks customs officials will sign off on the hemp seeds within “the next 24 hours.”

Kentucky's first legal hemp seeds almost didn't make it to the state. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says the first batch of industrial hemp seeds was being held by customs officials in Chicago who were unaware of Kentucky's new hemp law.

Comer said the process to get them released was stressful but says federal officials finally agreed to forward them to his office. He says once they arrive, they'll be sent to the state's six research schools to be planted by the first week of June.

Comer says his office paid for the seeds using money donated from a private source.

It's easy to think of "organic" and "non-GMO" as the best buddies of food. They sit comfortably beside each other in the same grocery stores — most prominently, in Whole Foods Market. Culturally, they also seem to occupy the same space. Both reject aspects of mainstream industrial agriculture.

In fact, the increasingly successful movement to eliminate genetically modified crops — GMOs — from food is turning out to be organic's false friend. The non-GMO label has become a cheaper alternative to organic.

The other morning, I found myself staring at something strange and unfamiliar: empty grocery shelves with the word "eggs" above them. The store, a Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C., blamed, in another sign, the dearth on "increased demand for organic eggs."

This scene is unfolding in grocery stores across the country. But Whole Foods' sign wasn't telling the whole truth. Demand for organic eggs is indeed increasing, but production is also down.

The reason behind that shortfall highlights an increasingly acute problem in the organic industry.

We Americans are heavy consumers of meat, and we're increasingly reminded that eating less of it will shrink our carbon footprint. Growing the crops to feed all those animals releases lots of greenhouse gases.

Kentucky Ag Commissioner Reveals 5 Pilot Hemp Projects

Feb 17, 2014

Kentucky's agriculture commissioner says the reintroduction of hemp production will start with at least five pilot projects across the state where the crop flourished until being banned for its ties to marijuana.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Monday he doesn't know how many hemp acres will be planted this year.

The new federal farm bill allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp-cultivation pilot projects for research in states that already allow the growing of hemp. Farmers will work with university researchers to study the crop.

Central Kentucky farmer Michael Lewis says the size of his hemp crop depends on the availability of seeds.

Hemp production was banned by the federal government decades ago. Hemp and marijuana are the same species. Hemp has a negligible content of the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

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.

Hemp advocates are calling the Farm Bill signed into law by President Obama a major milestone for the crop.

Pro-hemp groups think research pilot programs included in the bill will lead to greater things down the road. The Farm Bill signed by the President Friday contains an amendment that legalizes hemp production in the U.S. for research purposes.

The amendment was originally introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. Congressmen, including Republican Thomas Massie, from Kentucky’s 4th Congressional district. The amendment gives the green light to state agriculture departments and colleges and universities to grow hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes.

However, the new rules only apply to states like Kentucky that have already legalized industrial hemp farming.

The hemp issue gained momentum in the commonwealth last year, with state agriculture commissioner James Comer making legalization his top legislative priority.

Hemp farming has also been endorsed by Kentucky GOP  Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, as well as the state’s only Congressional Democrat, Representative John Yarmuth of Louisville.

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.

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. 

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