Agriculture

Liam Niemeyer I Ohio Valley ReSource

Ohio Valley farmers planted more than 27,000 acres of hemp last year — about four times more than in 2018 —  to cash in on a booming market for popular CBD products made from the crop.

Yet with that growing boom, the price of CBD-rich hemp has crashed, dropping more than 75 percent in just 6 months. Many farmers are now feeling the financial pinch of that bust.

A report from Colorado-based analytics firm PanXchange said Kentucky farmers last July on average could get $4.35 for each percent of CBD in each pound of hemp. For example, if a pound of hemp contained 6 percent CBD, then each pound of hemp could sell for about $26. Multiply that by thousands of pounds of harvested hemp, and the potential payday could be significant.


G.J. Strang/University of Kentucky

Kentucky’s Farms to Food Banks program increased the types of produce purchased from farmers in 2019.

It also began a new project to freeze some items that were sent along to food banks.

Farms to Food Banks buys what’s sometimes called “ugly produce.” It’s healthy, but not perfect enough in appearance to be sold to grocery stores.

The program pays farmers enough to cover the cost of labor, packaging and transportation, and keeps the imperfect produce from going to waste.

Sarah Vaughn, programs coordinator for Feeding Kentucky, said the program bought 22 types of produce in 2018, with that figure increasing to 28 varieties in 2019.


In 2019, the federal government delivered an extraordinary financial aid package to America's farmers. Farm subsidies jumped to their highest level in 14 years, most of them paid out without any action by Congress.

The money flowed to farmers like Robert Henry. When I visited in early July, many of his fields near New Madrid, Mo., had been flooded for months, preventing him from working in them. The soybeans that he did manage to grow had fallen in value; China wasn't buying them, in retaliation for the Trump administration's tariffs.

Ryan Quarles' Facebook

Kentucky's Republican Commissioner of Agriculture has largely flown under the radar while addressing many pressing issues facing the state's farms. He's banking his track record will carry him to a second term in office following the Nov. 5 election

Recently, the ninth-generation Kentucky farmer has led effort to alleviate the effects of a trade war that has farmers caught in the middle, as well as the legalization of hemp.


Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Tony Silvernail swings a heavy machete at a stalk of bushy hemp and chops the plant near the root, grabbing the five-foot-tall shoot with his sun-weathered hand.

It’s an unusually hot October day on his farm, Beyond The Bridge LLC, tucked in the hills outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. But the heat doesn’t faze Silvernail, sporting a sweat-soaked shirt, a huge smile, and a fat cigar between his teeth.

Silvernail and hundreds of others of farmers across the Ohio Valley are finally getting to harvest thousands of acres of hemp, the first harvest since the federal government legalized hemp cultivation last December.


Owensboro Regional Farmers Market/ facebook

The Owensboro Regional Farmers Market is showing significant growth in the number of vendors and customers.

One reason for the increase is the new permanent structure.

This first full season with the permanent pavilion offers shoppers a comfortable place to relax and chat with neighbors, as well as an expanded choice of vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and crafts. The permanent structure opened in late spring 2018, giving roots to the market that began 35 years ago.

Jim Gilles, president of the board of Owensboro Regional Farmers Market, said the market used to have an average of 30 vendors, and now it’s jumped to 40. He said customers like the increased offerings.


Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association

In spite of challenges from the weather, Kentucky farmers boosted production of winter wheat by 27 percent for the 2019 season over the past year. 

Kentucky farmers planted 460,000 acres of winter wheat last fall, an increase of 10,000 acres over the previous season.

David Knopf is director of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Office in Louisville. He said the initial seeding of those acres wasn’t promising.  

“Winter wheat production for the 2019 crop season turned out to be a relatively pleasant surprise," said Knopf. "It got off to a slow start last fall when there was a lot of rain and prevented farmers from getting the fields planted.”

But Knopf said the weather cooperated during the spring and early summer and that brought in a harvest that was a 27 percent increase over the previous year.  


U.S. Drought Monitor

The current hot, dry spell has put some of Kentucky’s 120 counties in “moderate drought” conditions. That’s having an impact on the state’s agriculture industry in some regions.

Kentucky farmers have been dealing with nature’s unpredictable extremes. Unusually wet conditions earlier this year delayed some planting, and now the long, dry spell may affect some of those late-planted crops.

Stuart Foster is the state climatologist and director of the Kentucky Climate Center based at Western Kentucky University. He said the center has been getting impact reports from farmers in areas around Breckenridge, Hardin and Meade counties, as well as in some parts of eastern Kentucky, including the region around Breathitt County.

Liam Niemeyer

Tom Folz drives around on a sunny, August afternoon and surveys the thousands of acres of dark green, leafy soybean plants and tall stalks of corn he grows on his sprawling farm in Christian County, Kentucky.

At 54, Folz has wispy, white hair matching his white mustache. It’s taken him several long work weeks to get his crop to where it is today.

“You got to be a little bit ‘off’ to be a farmer,” Folz said. ”You don’t get to enjoy anything during harvest and planting season because we’re working.”


Kyeland Jackson

Kentucky officials are celebrating the results of a program that increases access to fresh produce for low-income families. 

The “Double Dollars” program doubles the buying power when people use benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at some farmers markets and food sale locations. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said other states have come to Kentucky to learn about the program.

 


If you're caught in a trade war, it's good to be a farmer.

Lots of American companies have lost sales since the Trump administration and China embarked on the current cycle of tariff-raising and retaliation. Few, if any, have been compensated as handsomely as farmers.

Something strange is happening to Pengyin Chen's soybean experiments at the University of Missouri's Fisher Delta Research Center in Portageville, Mo.

"You see how small they are?" says Chen, gesturing at a field filled with thousands of small plots of soybeans.

Liam Niemeyer

West Liberty University Professor Zachary Loughman has dedicated his professional life to crustaceans – specifically freshwater crayfish. He dips his hand into one of the water tanks at his laboratory near Wheeling, West Virginia, to pick up a teal crayfish the size of a dollar bill.

“See the little guy dropping down? We caught mom and she had 300 babies. So we just let them grow,” Loughman said. “We’ve had our feet – my lab – in over 3000 rivers in the past ten years.”


Evan Heichelbech

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in Louisville Tuesday to talk to hemp farmers and providers about the industry’s challenges.

All three officials echoed similar sentiments of the challenges hemp farmers and providers are experiencing, despite being just six months removed from the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the crop.

At hemp processor Commonwealth Extracts warehouse on Tuesday, McConnell said Kentucky is “in the red zone” with hemp.

Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is sponsoring legislation that would reduce paperwork and streamline worker visa programs used by U.S. farmers. The Bowling Green Republican said the measure would be a major help for the commonwealth’s agriculture industry.

The bill would make it easier for farmers to apply for H-2A and H-2B visas used to employ temporary workers from other countries. Those work permits are often used in the equine, livestock, agriculture, and dairy industries.


Pages