James Comer

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 Department of Agriculture

An auction that sold off items from a failed fuel and pesticide testing lab run by the Agriculture Department has netted the state $1.65 million dollars.  Agriculture Commissioner James Comer presented a check in that amount to Treasurer Todd Hollenbach on Friday.  The money will go into the state’s general fund.

“Taxpayer dollars are a sacred trust, and my administration is dedicated to spending them wisely and giving back where appropriate,” said Comer.

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.

Attorney General Jack Conway is advising Kentucky leaders that industrial hemp farming remains illegal in the commonwealth.

Conway issued an advisory letter on Wednesday to Gov. Steve Beshear, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and others to clarify current law related to hemp. The letter appears to deflate hopes of hemp farming proponents who have said they'd like to begin planting next year.

Kentucky lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow farmers to grow the crop if the federal government ever lifts a longstanding ban. But Attorney General Conway said that ban remains firmly in place.

The state agriculture department recently issued a news release saying it was instructed by the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to begin drawing up regulations for hemp farming in the commonwealth. That came on the heels of comments by Justice Department officials that the federal government had no intention of prosecuting hemp farmers.

Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission is serving notice to the federal government that it plans to move forward with creating regulations for hemp production in the commonwealth.

A news release from the state agriculture department says staff members have been instructed to begin the process of writing rules for the development of the long-banned crop. The state’s industrial hemp commission is calling for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and U.S. Senator Rand Paul to write a letter to the U.S. Justice Department to “make Kentucky’s intentions known.”

Recent changes to state law have opened the door to future hemp production in Kentucky, although growing the crop is still technically illegal under federal rules.

But Commissioner Comer is pointing to recent statements by a Justice Department official who said the federal government has no intentions of prosecuting hemp farmers.

"Surely...no entity will seek to throw up a government obstacle to moving forward with another opportunity for Kentucky farmers and for manufacturing jobs."

A study conducted by the University of Kentucky contains mixed results concerning the economic viability of growing hemp. Hemp supporters have been pushing to get the crop legalized at both the state and federal levels, saying it could create thousands of jobs and help boost the bottom lines of farmers.

The UK study says hemp could be a profitable option for some farmers in central Kentucky, but not everywhere.

The Chairman of UK’s agriculture economics department told the Courier-Journal that he didn’t want to portray the study as a “negative outcome”, saying the crop “should be viewed as one more opportunity amid many opportunities for farmers." Leigh Maynard said there would be a big “learning curve” for producers and processes to climb, given that growing hemp in the U.S. has been illegal for decades.

Maynard said it's likely hemp could become a niche crop for some farmers. Hemp seeds can be used to make fuel, foods, and personal care products.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has made hemp legalization his chief legislative priority, and says he’s optimistic about the crop’s future despite the study. According to Comer, it’s difficult to estimate the economic impact of an industry that doesn’t exist.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says federal legislation that could lead to legalizing commercial hemp production may create  research opportunities at Murray State University. Comer praises the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a farm bill amendment this week that would allow university-level study of the plant that is in the same family as marijuana.

In turn, Murray State and the University of Kentucky have shown interest in developing research programs should the federal farm bill garner Senate approval. Comer says the research amendment was a compromise.

“I’m OK with this because I believe once the universities research it and people see this is not a drug – that it’s a totally different plant than its evil cousin marijuana – that people will realize that this is a crop that is an up-and-comer and that this is something we can use to enhance our manufacturing, said Comer.

The Monroe County native sees value in hemp as a viable alternative to hard plastics that he says are less sustainable and ecologically harmful.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner says Republicans need to focus on the economy in order to win statewide office, as opposed to stressing social issues.

In an interview at WKU Public Radio Wednesday, James Comer said the GOP has alienated a lot of key voting groups by making hot-button social topics the cornerstone of their campaigns.

“I’m proud to be a social conservative, but I’m not going to run any campaign in the future—regardless of what I run for—specifically on social issues. That has driven off young voters, and that has driven off female voters.”

Comer’s comments echo much of what Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul has said recently about the future of the GOP, and the party’s need to become more attractive to groups of voters that will determine Republicans’ future electoral prospects.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

A new partnership in Kentucky is combining the efforts of state dairy farmers and the world's largest retailer.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Monday that Walmart stores in central and south-central Kentucky will soon begin stocking a line of milk products that is sourced and processed entirely at commonwealth dairy farms.

Calling it one of the most significant developments in the history of the Kentucky Proud marketing program. Comer unveiled the “Udderly Kentucky” partnership, which will stock Walmart stores in the Bluegrass State with milk from 105 Kentucky dairy farms.

The program will return a 7-cent-per-gallon premium to each participating supplier. According to Comer, the average participating Kentucky dairy operation will generate $19,000 annually from the agreement.

Comer told WKU Public Radio he's been working on the partnership with Walmart since he took office in 2012. And he says he’s aware that many in the local-food movement eye Walmart with a great deal of suspicion and even disdain, given controversy surrounding the company’s business and employment practices.

Comer says he brought the issue up with the retailer when negotiating the deal.

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