Congress passes farm bill; what that could mean for Kentucky farmers

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(WBKO / AP) -- The House has easily passed the Farm Bill, a massive legislative package that reauthorizes agriculture programs and food aid.

The legislation has already passed the Senate and is now headed to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

One thing that the bill addresses is the legalization of industrial hemp.

According to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, the number of applications for licenses to grow industrial hemp has grown by 400 percent in the state.

"We want Kentucky to have a reputation for being the go-to state for industrial hemp," said Quarles, "and that's something that we have been already working diligently on."

Quarles believes Kentucky's unique history with the growth of hemp will allow the state to hit the ground with both feet running, if the farm bill becomes law.

Commissioner Quarles asked that Kentucky's research universities continue to study the plant, in order to truly understand the impact it could have on the state.

Western Kentucky University Agriculture Professor Todd Willian says they've been part of experimental programs with industrial hemp for five years.

"Hemp was grown, or was grown in the past in Kentucky as much as any other state, so it should grow well here," said Willian.

In 2017, the hemp pilot programs reported $25.6 million in capital investments and improvements. They also reported over $16 million in gross product sales.

Commissioner Quarles urges anyone with the desire to learn more about obtaining a hemp-growing license to contact his office.

The Farm Bill is the result of months of negotiations by lawmakers. It does not make any significant changes to the food stamp program that serves nearly 40 million low-income Americans. Trump and conservatives had pushed to create new work requirements for food stamps, but the Senate rejected the idea.

The bill reauthorizes agriculture and conservation programs, funds trade programs, expands support for struggling dairy farmers and legalizes the cultivation of industrial hemp. The House vote was 369-47.