Agriculture

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. 

Kentucky’s elected leaders are again asking the federal government whether or not the commonwealth can legally grow industrial hemp.  Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and some members of Kentucky's congressional delegation have sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The letter asks the DEA to clarify its position on industrial hemp.  A Justice Department memo issued in August provides guidance concerning marijuana enforcement in states that have legalized marijuana.  Commissioner Comer believes industrial hemp should be treated the same way. 

"Recognizing the intent of the Aug. 29 memo, it would defy common sense to allow states to move forward with marijuana activity, but ignore states that have passed laws allowing for the production of industrial hemp," writes Comer. 

The letter is also signed by U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Congressmen Thomas Massie and John Yarmuth.  The letter puts the government on notice that Kentucky will move forward with hemp production unless the state hears otherwise.

The Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 50 in the 2013 session that sets up a regulatory framework for hemp production.

Kentucky's tobacco industry has undergone major changes in the past few decades from the way it's grown and harvested, to the way it's sold and marketed. WKU folklore professor Dr. Ann Ferrell spent the past eight years researching what the changes have meant to tobacco families and what the future holds in her new book "Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century".

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.”

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is challenging leaders in eastern Kentucky to open their eyes to the state’s declining coal economy.

Comer is Kentucky’s only Republican statewide constitutional officer. He has led the effort to make industrial hemp legal in the state and is also considered a possible candidate for governor in 2015.

Comer recently told a group of farmers in Eastern Kentucky that he “cannot be controlled” by party bosses.

He says leaders in Appalachia need to understand that coal production is decreasing and they should begin discussing new economic opportunities.

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. 

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