A survey of Kentucky's equine industry harnessed big numbers to back up the state's bragging rights as the world's horse capital. Kentucky is home to around 242,400 horses, according to new data released Wednesday.
From June to October of last year, researchers with the National Agricultural Statistics Service counted equines across the state, ranging from thoroughbreds at large farms to ponies in people’s backyards.
Dr. Jill Stowe, a professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Kentucky, says the project marks the first comprehensive survey of Kentucky’s horses since 1977.
“The data that we have right now even is useful for our elected officials in policy decisions. It’s useful for business owner or entrepreneurs who are trying to write business plans and they need to know what demand is like in their area," said Dr. Stowe. "And with this information we have that.”
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says an increasing number of state legislators are lining up in support of legalizing the growing of hemp as a cash crop for Kentucky farmers.
Bills have been filed in both the Kentucky House and Senate to allow the growing of industrial hemp after licensing through the agriculture department.
Speaking before the Kentucky Commodities Conference in Bowling Green Friday, Comer told WKU Public Radio hemp is a crop with potential uses for industry, clothing, paper and more. The biggest problem, he said, is overcoming the opposition of law enforcement agencies that fear growing hemp could lead to an increase in marijuana growing. The two plants are almost identical and police say hemp would serve as a cover for marijuana plots.
Comer has spent the past several months trying to convince law enforcement groups that industrial hemp won’t lead to an increase in marijuana growth, but he says the decision ultimately rests with the General Assembly.
“Whether they support it or not, the legislators are the lawmakers. They’re the ones that make the laws and the state police will abide by the law,” said Comer, who is a Monroe County farmer. “So I wish everybody was on board, but at the end of the day my job as Ag Commissioner is to help farmers and to create jobs in rural communities. And this bill will do that and hopefully we can get it passed.”
Comer says the bill will detail how the state agriculture department would regulate the growing of hemp. An economic impact study conducted by the University of Kentucky on the crop’s market potential is expected to be released in early February.
If the measure passes the state legislature, Comer says he will then focus on trying to get hemp reclassified at the federal level. Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Bowling Green has appeared several times with Comer in recent months to support the legalization of industrial hemp. Sen. Paul says he'll champion federal efforts to reclassify hemp.
Before he joins the call for legalized industrial hemp, Gov. Steve Beshear wants law enforcement officials to resolve their concerns about the issue.
The issue: Some Kentucky officials believe legalized industrial hemp would be good for Kentucky's economy, but law enforcement officials are concerned that such a move would conflict with efforts to crack down on marijuana growers.
“I think we’re going to have to answer those questions before we can really move forward in the industrial hemp area,” Beshear said.
Kentucky is central in the movement to legalize hemp as an agricultural crop, largely thanks to the advocacy of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
As Kentucky and federal lawmakers consider legalizing industrial hemp, the chair of the University of Kentucky's agriculture economics department notes that such an industry won't rise overnight.
It's a matter of economic viability. The main question being: With corn, soybeans and other crops selling at record high levels, what would entice farmers to switch to hemp instead?
Leigh Maynard, chair of the University of Kentucky’s ag economics department, said he expects farmers to be hesitant to begin growing industrial hemp. Maynard said farmers will likely balk at the idea of foregoing record high prices in other markets just to grow hemp.
The second meeting of the state’s Industrial Hemp Commission will include picking out some details of panel’s efforts. The commission, chaired by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, will dive Friday morning into specifics of a new legislative proposal.
They include the bill’s language and which legislators will sponsor it during the 2013 session.
Comer says a state university will be selected to conduct a new economic study of legalizing industrial hemp in Kentucky.