U.S. agriculture secretary visits Kentucky hemp operations


LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited Kentucky for an up-close look at the Commonwealth’s hemp industry at the invitation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday. Leader McConnell and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles hosted Secretary Perdue on a tour of a processor and a research farm.

“I was honored to show Secretary Perdue why Kentucky is the epicenter of the nation’s burgeoning hemp industry,” Commissioner Quarles said. “Kentucky led the charge to make hemp legal again, and now we’ve approved more acres for hemp cultivation than any other state. This tour was an opportunity to show Secretary Perdue that the hemp renaissance is real, and it is already generating income and jobs for Kentucky farmers and businesses.”

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The tour opened Tuesday morning at Commonwealth Extracts in Louisville, which manufactures a variety of products from cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp. On Tuesday afternoon, Secretary Perdue saw hemp in the ground at Spindletop Farm in Lexington, a research farm of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

In between, Secretary Perdue’s party enjoyed a lunch at the new Bulleit Bourbon visitors center in Shelbyville, where Secretary Perdue addressed Kentucky Farm Bureau members and agriculture leaders.

Kentucky became the first state to file its hemp regulatory plan for approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) when Commissioner Quarles submitted Kentucky’s plan to Secretary Perdue moments after the 2018 farm bill was signed into law in December.

The 2018 farm bill removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act and established minimum requirements for a state hemp regulatory framework to win USDA approval. Until the USDA approves state plans, the federal agency has directed states to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized states to develop research pilot programs.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has approved more than 58,000 acres for hemp cultivation in 2019, more than any other state and more than 3½ times the 16,000 acres approved in 2018.

Hemp applications were approved for a record 101 Kentucky counties. The KDA also approved more than 6 million square feet of greenhouse space for hemp cultivation. It is unlikely that all approved acres will be grown. The amount approved is a sizable jump from the 33 acres grown in 2014, the first growing year.

Kentucky hemp processors reported $57.75 million in gross product sales last year, compared with $16.7 million in gross product sales in 2017. Processors paid Kentucky farmers $17.75 million for harvested hemp materials in 2018, up from $7.5 million the year before. Hemp processors spent $23.4 million in capital improvements and employed a total of 459 people in 2018, the processors reported to the KDA.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.