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.

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