Initiative to bring rye back to Kentucky

Source: Woodford Reserve

WOODFORD COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – An initiative to bring rye back to Kentucky is underway but more help is needed from local distilleries.

Commercial quality rye was once widely cultivated in the state, but during the past several decades production has almost entirely ceased. It’s why there’s an initiative to bring the grain back to Kentucky.

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During a news conference Tuesday, Woodford Reserve officials announced American Farmland Trust (AFT) will be moving into Brown-Forman on Main Street in Louisville.

Barbara Hurt, Executive Director at Brown-Forman, says AFT joined the conversation in 2019. Hurt says the initiave would not only provide farmers with an additonal cash crop but also have a positive impact on the environment.

Walnut Grove FarmsUniversity of KY, and KY Small Grain Growers Association have been working together for over thirty years to bring added commercial value to cover crops, according to DendriFund. In the last several years, they have taken on research and development of rye as a commercial cover crop with additional support from DendriFund, Brown-Forman, and American Farmland Trust.

Billy Van Pelt, with American Farmland Trust, says the announcement comes during AFT’s 40th anniversary and, “Builds the foundation for the next 40 years.”

Van Pelt also says involvement from local farmers has increased from seven farmers last year to 26 this year.

According to Van Pelt, 21 unique counties are represented in this initiative which spans all geographic regions of Kentucky, “This is a big increase from last year where farmers from five unique counties represented the initiative.”

The initive, according to Van Pelt, has increased 320% – going from 334 acres grown last year to 1,449 acres of rye-growing this year. The goal is to work collaboratively with partners to increase visibility and promote the project.

Van Pelt says it’s an exciting opportunity for Kentucky farmers to share new market opportunities to promote a small grain economy and protect the states’ agriculture landscape. Their goal is to have 10,000 acres in rye production by 2030.

“Given the boom in bourbon, its time to bring rye back,” said Chris Morris, master distiller at Woodford Reserve.

Morris says the climate in Kentucky makes it tough to grow rye, “It’s a European grain imported by early settlers and didn’t grow here.”

Elizabeth McCall, assistant master distiller at Woodford Reserve, says they took part in this on a smaller scale five years ago and have now committed to producing at least another five years, continuing research on flavor impact, “We have found it hasn’t had any kind of negative impact or anything that’s really been an issue with our production process.”

McCall adds that it’s a way to minimize the carbon footprint by sourcing rye grain from Kentucky while also supporting local farmers.

“We’ve had trouble with pollination with the rye kernels which we think is attributed to the temperature,” added Sam Halcomb, a participating farmer. “We are making progress over the last five years.”

However, McCall says they need other distillers to get involved to support the initiative and make it “normal practice”. Any distillers interested can reach out to Van Pelt by emailing or calling 859-983-8118.

For more information on American Farmland Trust, click HERE. To read more about the DendriFund, click HERE.

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Erica joins the ABC 36 family as a Co-Anchor of Good Morning Kentucky weekday mornings from 5am-7am with Cody Adams and Good Day Kentucky weekday mornings from 9am to 10am. Erica also anchors News at Midday from 12-12:30pm. She is also a Web and Social Media Content Producer. Erica graduated in three and a half years from Michigan State University with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism and specialization in Women, Gender and Social Justice. Although she hails from Michigan, Erica has worked as a News Reporter/Sports Anchor for the CBS-affiliate in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Prior to that, she worked for a PBS-affiliate there covering all types of news – even providing live reports for The Weather Channel during her first hurricane. She then moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana and worked as the Weekend Anchor/Reporter at KPLC, the NBC/FOX/CW affiliate. Erica comes to Lexington from the Huntington area where she worked at WSAZ, an NBC/CW affiliate in West Virginia, as a weekday evening anchor covering the tri states of Ohio and Kentucky as well. In addition to her background on TV, Erica has worked in radio, served as the PA announcer for the Class A "Lansing Lugnuts" and hosted Carnival parades in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some of her favorite hobbies include running, reading, hiking, spending time with her husband and taking pictures of their furbabies. Erica is big on community involvement, having served as a board member for Dress for Success, volunteered as a Big with Big Brothers Big Sisters, worked on the Mayor's Armed Forces Commission in Lake Charles and hosted countless events. She hopes you can connect with her on Facebook: EricaBivensTV and on Twitter: @ericabivens or Instagram: erica.bivens. You can also email her at Please send all event inquiries via email. Erica is excited to explore Lexington and the outdoors and - of course - meet all of you!