• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Technology in agriculture, more on farm tour


WALTER BRADLEY PARK was one of several stops on Monday's 52nd annual Woodford County Farm Tour. Volunteer John Holloway, right, talked about efforts to nurture an environment of native grasses, shrubs and trees in the 30-acre park near downtown Midway. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Visitors to the University of Kentucky's research farm on Midway Road learned about technology in agriculture and industrial hemp production during the 52nd annual Woodford County Farm Tour on Monday morning. "It's not granddaddy's agriculture anymore," said Tim Stomaugh, an Extension professor for UK's biosystems and agricultural engineering department. Advances in technology allow a GPS system to control a tractor - like one parked behind him - so crops are planted in straighter rows and fertilizer applications are more precise, Stomaugh said. He said about 80 to 85 percent of the large-scale farmers in this country use GPS technology on tractors costing $150,000 to $250,000. "My work," Stomaugh told farm tour visitors, "is toys .... Some of them are big and some of them are little." Camera-equipped drones (the little) offer farmers a way to hover over a crop and become more efficient in decision-making. "It gives me a look at a field ... using a relatively inexpensive technology (about $1,500)," he said. A drone can only be legally flown 400 feet high and must remain within line-of-sight of the operator, said Stomaugh, but the low cost of an unmanned aerial vehicle makes that technology very affordable to small-scale farmers. 'We are the leader' Tom Keene has been with UK's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences for 12 years, but over the last year or so he has been working with industrial hemp research.

KATHERINE MACCARTHY, age 8, sat behind the steering wheel of a large tractor during a stop at the University of Kentucky's C. Oran Little Research Center during Monday's 52nd annual Woodford County Farm Tour. Also pictured are her 6-year-old sister, Madison, and Manus Lavin, 10. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

"I will tell you - unequivocally - this is the most unique plant that I've ever worked with in my life," he told farm tour visitors standing near an eight-acre crop of industrial hemp on UK's research farm. Asked where Kentucky ranks in terms of hemp production, he said, "We are the leader in industrial hemp production in the United States - not in the world, but in the United States." Marijuana and hemp are both a variety of the cannabis plant so "the only thing that distinguishes this (hemp plant) from marijuana," said Keene, "is the level of THC," which is responsible for the high. "And the only way we can know what the level of THC in this (plant) is to have it tested in a lab." Anyone in the commonwealth who wants to grow a hemp crop must submit an application with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture - or they are breaking the law. And a grower must allow the Kentucky State Police troopers or agricultural department on their property to inspect their hemp crops at any time to ensure THC levels are within legal limits as defined by federal law, Keene said. "If it wasn't for the (state) Department of Agriculture," said Keene, "we would have no project here in Kentucky." He said every state in the country growing hemp must have a pilot project administered by the Department of Agriculture or an institution of higher learning. Kentucky farmers were approved to grow 4,600 acres of industrial hemp last year, but only about half was planted and about half of that was harvested, Keene said. In 2017, he said, 12,800 acres were approved for hemp, which has been around for 13,000 to 14,000 years. Europeans brought hemp with them when they came to this country, Keene said. "Primarily, back in those days," he said, "it was grown for the fiber component." The outer "stringy" fiber and inner "woody" fiber of the plant were used by early pioneers to make clothing, hats, and covered wagon canvases, he explained. These days, he said many of Kentucky's smaller hemp processors are "artisan crafters" who make handbags or other specialized products. Industrial hemp can also be processed as horse bedding or for sunglasses, coolers and a car's dashboard. "So this fiber can be used for a multitude of things," he added. The oils, which are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, pressed out of hemp seeds can be used for cooking and also turned into cooking ingredients such as flour for making pancakes and other foods. "When they tell you that there are thousands of uses for this crop," said Keene, "they're not lying." 'In our backyard' Versailles resident Michelle Lavin says she has been taking her 10-year-old son, Manus, on the Woodford County Farm Tour for the last several years. She and Lucy MacCarthy, who both homeschool their kids, describe the annual farm tour as a field trip that enhances their children's educations. No two years are alike because the farm tour takes them to different farms every year. "And it's in our backyard, so he gets to know his county, something about it," said Lavin. She said the annual farm tour also exposes Manus to an older generation of farmers and others who call Woodford County home. It was only their second year on the Woodford County Farm Tour, but MacCarthy appreciates this opportunity to expose her daughters, 8-year-old Katherine and 6-year-old Madison, to the local farming community. "Every year they're learning about different things," said MacCarthy, whose family also lives in Versailles. "We're an agricultural state and students of Kentucky should know something about agriculture by the time they graduate high school," she added. "...It's nice to get the diversity (of experiences), and get to see some unique things as well." In addition to learning about technology in agriculture and industrial hemp production, those visiting the UK research farm were told what a landowner can do to protect a stream flowing through their property so it remains a clean water source for livestock and wildlife, and most importantly, for people. Amanda Gumbert, a water quality liaison with UK Agriculture and Natural Resources, spoke to tour visitors after their bus drove across a bridge with a stream flowing beneath it. Water in that stream will eventually flow to the Kentucky River - the main source of drinking water in this area. "Having these (natural) buffers along our streams is one of the ways that we promote good water quality," said Gumbert. She urged landowners to establish "a no mow zone" or plant trees, grasses and wild flowers along a stream to reduce soil erosion along its banks. "It's really good soil (that we have in Kentucky) so let's not wash it away," she added. Allowing trees to grow along a stream's banks reduces water temperature and decreases algae, which can release toxins that are harmful to wildlife, humans and their pets, Gumbert explained. She said a landowner can mow one-third of the land along a stream's bank every year to reduce invasive plant growth. A fence along the stream flowing through UK's farm ensures cattle cannot cause bank erosion, she said. Officially known as the University of Kentucky's C. Oran Little Research Center, the 1,500-acre farm does state-of-the-art research into sheep, swine and beef production as well as the veterinary sciences (horses). 'Walking the trails' A visit to Midway's Walter Bradley Park was an opportunity for Woodford County Farm Tour visitors to see how locals have created a natural habitat along Lee's Branch by planting native grasses, shrubs, wildflowers and trees. "You get a lot of wildlife benefits from doing plantings and having a public place that I can send people ... here's a patch of Indian grass and some pollinators ... It just makes walking the trails more interesting," said local wildlife biologist Joe Lacefield. Two-and-a-half-miles of walking trails at Walter Bradley Park allow a visitor to take in the natural world around them. Songbirds and other wildlife are being seen more frequently in the area because of "a really nice spring," said Lacefield. In addition to funding from the City of Midway, volunteer John Holloway said, efforts to revitalize Walter Bradley Park near downtown Midway have been helped by fundraisers and grants from the Woodford County Conservation District. 'A working farm' Midway University has offered degrees in equine studies since the 1970s - making the institution one of the oldest programs in the country, equine sciences professor Janice Holland told visitors on the Woodford County Farm Tour. "It's very much a working farm," she said. "The students are a part of our staff. Without them, we wouldn't be running the program. "We are very hands-on, and that is what makes our program a little different than some of the other (equine programs) in the state." Midway University students have an opportunity to explore careers in the equine industry during their freshmen year so they have a better understanding of what they want to do as a career, Holland said. In addition to offering degrees in equine management, rehabilitation, and science (for students interested in pursuing veterinary medicine as a career), Midway University has two riding teams and offers internship opportunities for its students, said Stephanie Keeley, a faculty member in Midway University's equine program. 'Keep good cover' Two horse pastures on the Midway University campus provided examples of how farmland can be over- or under-grazed, and demonstrated how "a couple of weeks' rest" can help a pasture naturally heal itself, said Krista Lea, who coordinates the pasture evaluation program for UK's College of Agriculture. She said applying herbicides and reseeding are also beneficial to pastures being spot-grazed by horses. "We always want to keep good cover," she said. "Another thing about good cover is it's going to reduce soil erosion," which minimizes a horse's impact on the environment. In Kentucky, Lea said, a horse needs about two acres of land for grazing, while "Texas needs 10 acres per horse on a good year."

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