The Agricultural Commissioner of Kentucky, Ryan Quarles, appeared at the Laurel County Extension office Monday afternoon to answer questions and discuss policies and developments that may affect Kentucky's farmers.
"This is what we call the Farmers Roundtable," said Quarles, "this is your chance to connect to the Kentucky Department of Ag. I'm gonna talk for about 10-to-15 minutes and cover various topics, and then open it up for questions and discussions."
Quarles touched on issues ranging from the legalization of hemp to Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) policies to lab-grown beef. Local farmers, Farm Service Service Agency (FSA) representatives and individuals from Whitley County Conservation, among others, attended the discussion.
"One-third of the entire state is under federal disaster relief right now due to excessive moisture," opened Quarles. He said this opened loan opportunities under the FSA; however, a disaster package has yet to be established through Congress.
"2018, despite being a wet year, a year we struggled with our yields and our quality with crops, ended up being a good year for policy," said Quarles, citing the Farm Bill of 2018. "It gives the ag community stability. The programs you're used to working with are going to be continued to be funded."
Part of this stability, he continued, is the securing of funds for the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, a USDA program intended to promote knowledge of agricultural and health-related knowledge in universities.
"The 2018 Farm Bill also included this little provision at the end for the first time in 70 years that legalizes industrial hemp," added Quarles. He noted that some farmers have been replacing tobacco crops with hemp plants.
"I'll just give a few numbers here to prove hemp is not a novelty. In 2017, we had over $17 million of Kentucky-grown, Kentucky-processed, Kentucky-proud industrial hemp that originated right here in the commonwealth. We're expecting that number to triple," he boasted.
Assuring that economic data will come in later in the month, Quarles stated that hundreds of jobs that had not existed prior now exist because of industrial hemp. He accredited the legalization of hemp to an increase in new farmers, going from 210 new farmers in 2018 to 1,047 thus far.
According to Quarles, 70 percent of hemp-production is going towards CBD products. These products are used for medicinal purposes and take the form of creams, oils and foods, among other commodities. Quarles said the FDA is investigating CBD to determine what level of regulation required.
"If they decide you need a prescription to purchase CBD, that could destroy the industry. We want to help educate the FDA," said Quarles. He said the first FDA hearing on CBD will occur sometime in late April.
Moving onto another topic, the commissioner brought up cultured meat; a developing concept that sees scientists growing cuts off meat from muscle samples taken from animals.
"Basically what they do is they take a biopsy from the live animal, take out some tissue about the size of a grain of rice, put it into a pastry dish and transfer it to a stainless steel vat. They feed it amino acids and trace elements. Although the price of it is I believe $15,000 a pound; they will get it down. This technology's not going away," explained Quarles.
According to an article from Scientific America, cultured meat could cut down on the number of animals sent to slaughter-houses, which could then lead to fewer carbon emissions from livestock production. The article can be read at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lab-grown-meat/.
"There are people who wanna buy this. Thirty companies in the world investing in this," said Quarles. "Companies as familiar as Tyson are about to make investments into this. Even ag companies are looking into this investment." He touched upon a bill he introduced to take action against cultured meat. House Bill 311 would deem any cultured meat products as "misbranded" if they are advertised as meat.
"This bill is about protecting our cattle and livestock industry and giving the consumers what they want: and that's transparency on the label," said Quarles.
The commissioner then discussed the state of Kentucky Proud, a marketing program for Kentucky-grown products. He said 7000 people are marketing with the program, with $500,000 spent in merchandising.
"Kentucky Proud continues to grow. I hope you all are continuing to utilize Kentucky Proud. We have 168 farmers markets across Kentucky. The number of sales continues to go up," said Quarles. He added that the Kentucky Farm Bureau bought the naming rights to the recent NCAA baseball stadium in Lexington, calling the structure "Kentucky Proud Park."
"The best part about it is that it gives us an anchor facility where people -- consumers, that is -- who don't know the difference between a soy bean and a green bean can go to learn where their food comes from," said Quarles, explaining that the stadium may be a future location of agricultural conventions and events.
Quarles moved on to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico designed to replace the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
"It needs to be ratified by Congress. This for Kentucky -- not all States, but for Kentucky, is a very pro-ag trade deal with our two biggest buyers. Twenty percent of all Kentucky exports go to Canada. The next biggest buyer is south of us, Mexico. This is a near tariff-free deal for our farmers," Quarles said. He then shifted focus to relations with China.
"With NAFTA being dealt with, the Trump administration's next biggest focus is China, trying to call the hand on some unfair trade practices with China -- our biggest buyers. When we send a load of soybeans to China, we are held to a higher standard than every other country in the world. They can reject a load of soybeans if it has more than one percent deformity in it."
Following the discussion on China, Quarles pointed towards Japan as one of the biggest buyers of Kentucky exports.
"Kentucky already has a special relationship with Japan through the automotive industry, but they're also a big buyer. They buy about $3 billion of beef and pork every year. We just opened up for the first time in years the exportation of sheep and lamb products from Kentucky to Japan." He added that, through selling products in foreign markets the United States is capable of beating competitors in cost-production and quality.
One of the last topics commissioner Quarles brought up was new rule-making towards Waters of the United States (WOTUS), a series of regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intended to protect US waters systems from pollution and destruction.
"In 2016, our then-president proposed a WOTUS rule for the EPA to have complete jurisdiction and regulation of your all's farm," said Quarles. "It's our belief that if you are a landowner in Kentucky, you should be able to stand on your farm without hiring a lawyer, without hiring a hydrologist, without hiring environmentalists, to determine whether or not you are amicable in water."
Quarles didn't touch on the specifics of these proposed regulations, but he did ask agriculture groups to read the document and submit their comments. The full document can be accessed at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/14/2019-00791/revised-definition-of-waters-of-the-united-states. The office of Ryan Quarles can be reached via phone at (502) 573-0450, via fax at (502) 573-0046 and via email at Ryan.Quarles@Ky.Gov.