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Quarles: FDA should clarify hemp regulations

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles said Wednesday that overproduction is what caused Kentucky’s hemp market to go down so quickly since 2018.

Quarles made the statement as a guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Paducah meeting at the Carson Center for the Performing Arts.

“There is an old phrase in agriculture that we can produce ourselves out of prosperity,” he said. “We are really good at growing hemp, so what happened was we had a re-introduction of a crop that, historically, we are a dominant market factor in that.

“The thing is, we’ve got to make sure that the processors are able to handle the volume. Kentucky still has about 100-plus hemp companies. Some are very small — some of them are mom-and-pops working in their kitchens — and some of them are very large companies.”

Quarles said that when hemp became legalized through the 2018 Farm Bill, all states began growing hemp in 2019, and hemp processing had not yet grown as an industry.

Quarles noted some area hemp companies are continuing to work, including Kentucky HempWood of Murray, which is making hardwood floors out of hemp and using Kentucky soybean oil as the adhesive.

“The No. 1 issue in hemp is this: The federal government has not done its job,” he said. “The Food and Drug Administration has not given the hemp industry clarification on what the regulatory framework will look like.

“Many of you all are probably familiar with CBD (cannabidiol), which is one of about 100 different cannibinoids found in the floral part of the hemp plant. We think it has a lot of benefits. We think a lot of people are using it and finding benefits from that, but the FDA today will tell you that it is illegal to consume CBD oil. But yet, you could walk into any gas station today in America and buy it.”

Quarles clarified that it doesn’t matter who the president is, but the FDA should let the hemp industry know what the rules are regarding hemp harvesting, process and sales.

Quarles also spoke about solar farms on Kentucky lands, a burgeoning occurrence in western Kentucky. Solar farms are being set up on private lands with permission from the landowners.

“That’s one of these issues that, in the past year, we’ve had a lot of solar companies approach landowners and say, ‘Hey, we want to build,’ ” he said. “No. 1, I’m a personal property rights guy. If you own an asset, if you own a car, etc., that you generally should be able to do what you want with it.

“For some farmers, they look at this as a way to get revenue to save a farm, but I also think there is a lot of confusion about this issue. There is actually solar legislation currently being considered by the General Assembly.”

Quarles said there should be a bare-minimum framework statewide with regulations for solar farming, including information about setbacks and interaction of solar farms with local power grids.

Quarles said that the industry that was most affected by the Dec. 10-11 tornadoes was Kentucky agriculture.

“It hit rural areas,” he said. “It basically went from the banks of the Mississippi all the way up to just south of Louisville. We actually had dead cattle from that tornadic event as far east as just south of Louisville, Kentucky — 200 miles, several different systems, an unfortunate loss of lives.

“It was absolutely devastating, with 30 chicken barns — each of which are worth about a million dollars — collapsed. We had a feed facility down in Graves County that not only got taken offline, but that one feed facility supplied feed for 200 other farms. We had to redirect feed from other states.”

After the meeting, Quarles told The Sun that he has not yet declared to run for office in the 2023 election, but is “strongly considering a run for governor of Kentucky in 2023.”

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