Kentucky farmers facing challenges on multiple fronts

Published 12:27 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Guest columnist 

This past week, the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture met to hear a report from Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles on the state of agriculture in Kentucky. Quarles provided an update on challenges Kentucky farmers are facing, as well as good news as it relates to fresh opportunities for farmers to diversify their crops.

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Kentucky’s rapidly increasing industrial hemp production is a success story for our farmers, as well as for the quality work our state officials have done to make our state a national leader in hemp production.

Kentucky leads the nation with 26,000 acres planted this year, a record production year that includes nearly 1,000 growers and 202 processors. Industrial hemp employed 459 Kentuckians in 2018, a number that will only accelerate as the industry becomes more commercialized and more and more acres are planted.

However, as Commissioner Quarles testified, industrial hemp still faces challenges in reaching its full potential. While the federal government no longer classifies the crop as a controlled substance — thanks to passage of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill — there are still questions about federal intrusion into hemp operations.

Another challenge is that banks are still hesitant to lend and do business with hemp processors and growers, in large part because of the crop’s infancy and past similarities to other substances. Legislators, as well as the Department of Agriculture, are working through these issues with our Kentucky-based banks, so that we can identify dilemmas and break down barriers to economic opportunity for our farmers.

If anyone is interested in growing industrial hemp in 2020, you will be able to apply for a license with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture beginning Nov. 15. While this crop is now legal, its production is still being overseen by the department while the industry continues getting off the ground.

There are also potential legislative changes on the horizon in 2020 to our hemp laws, aimed at streamlining the process and further allowing the industry to grow and prosper.

Another financial barrier currently facing our farmers is the lack of trade access, an ongoing issue as President Trump continues to fight to ensure that we have free and fair trade with China. Farmers of all varieties need access to outlets to export their products, as nothing is more important to them than having an outlet to sell their product.

Thankfully, President Trump has negotiated a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. If enacted, this trade deal will help us grow the economy, create jobs and provide new and much-needed markets for our farmers to sell their products. Nonpartisan analysis even shows that the deal would add hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide. It would also provide new opportunities to our struggling dairy farmers, in the form of new access to Canada to export goods like milk, cream, butter and cheese.

But unfortunately, the deal has yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress. Instead of doing her job and helping our citizens and farmers, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is blocking this trade deal from going into effect. The constant and never-ending obsession with impeaching President Trump is the biggest obstacle to establishing new markets for our farmers, proving that impeachment efforts are going so far as to hurt Kentucky’s economy. In a period when our farmers desperately need new to sell their products, action on this front is critical.

Trade is not the only challenge facing our farmers. We also have endured one of the driest seasons on record, with September bringing less than 0.3 inches of rainfall. This led all of Kentucky’s 120 counties to declare a drought, and numerous burn bans throughout the commonwealth. I am thankful for recent rainfall, which was long-awaited and welcome news for the farms that grow our population’s food supply.

As always, I can be reached at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at (800) 372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at


Daniel Elliott is the state representative for Boyle and Casey counties.