The Richmond Register

Local News

April 11, 2013

Comer to launch Farm to Campus program Monday at EKU

RICHMOND — Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer will make his second visit to Richmond in six days Monday when he will formally launch the Proud Farm to Campus program with EKU President Doug Whitlock at a 3 p.m. ribbon-cutting.

EKU’s student convenience store and bookstore will increase its offering of Kentucky Proud products, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will work with student members of the EKU Green Crew on sustainability initiatives, according to a news release from Comer’s office.

Under the Farm to Campus program, the state agriculture department will partner with EKU and other Kentucky colleges to help with their buy-local efforts.

Over the next two years, the department will target college campuses to put more shelf-stable Kentucky Proud products in their bookstores and gift shops, and more farm-fresh Kentucky Proud products in their cafeterias and food service systems, the release stated.

The department also will work with universities and student sustainability groups, such as the Green Crew, on Kentucky Proud/buy local efforts in Richmond and other college towns.

When Comer travels around the state to speak with farmers and those in agriculture-related business, he is asked most often about legalization of hemp and his predecessor, former Kentucky basketball star Richie Farmer, the commissioner said during a Wednesday visit to Richmond.

After he spoke to a crowd of about 60 at the Blue Grass Stockyards, no one asked Comer about Farmer, who has been accused of 42 ethical violations. However, hemp was the main topic of questions and discussion.

Comer, who also visited Tri-County Fertilizer during his Wednesday visit, is Kentucky’s leading proponent of legalizing hemp.

Although industrial hemp may not be grown legally anywhere in the United States until the federal government drops its opposition, Comer helped push enabling legislation through this year’s session of the Kentucky legislature. The law will give Kentucky farmers a head start on competitors in other states if hemp is legalized, he said.

Asked about how much demand there would be for hemp fiber or seeds if the state’s farmers are allowed to grow it, Comer was cautious.

About $500 million worth of hemp fiber and seeds is imported from other countries every year, he said.

If American-grown hemp is less costly than imports, the demand from producers of hemp byproducts could rise.

While hemp would never replace tobacco, or even corn or soybeans, as profitable crops for Kentucky farmers, Comer said, it would give them another option.

Only farms larger than 50 acres that could devote at least 10 acres to hemp cultivation would likely be able to produce it profitably, Comer said.

Growers would need a license to produce the crop and a contract from a buyer before they could be licensed, the agriculture commissioner said.

However, licensing and monitoring also would increase his employees’ workload, Comer said.

Law enforcement would be kept informed of where hemp was being grown legally, alleviating concern about hemp being confused with marijuana eradication efforts, he said.

Even without the option of growing industrial hemp, this is a good time to be engaged in Kentucky agriculture, the commissioner said.

Sales of Kentucky farm products generate more income for the state than any other industry, he said, more than $5 billion.

Poultry is the state’s leading farm product, followed by horses, beef cattle, corn and soybeans, Comer said.

The rising popularity of locally grown, farm-fresh food is creating new opportunities for Kentucky farmers, especially those near large cities, he said. The state still imports too much of its food, he added.

Bill Robinson can be reached at editor@richmondregister.comeditor@richmondregister.com or at 624-6690.

 

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