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 wealth,” he said. “We’re really good at growing hemp, so we’ve had a reintroduction of a crop where historically we’ve been a dominant market factor.
“The thing is, we have to make sure the processors are capable of handling the volume. Kentucky still has over 100 hemp companies. Some are very small – some of them are moms and pops working in their kitchens – and some of them are very big companies.”
Quarles said that when hemp was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, all states began growing hemp in 2019, and hemp processing as an industry has not yet grown.
Quarles noted that some hemp companies continue to operate in the area, including Murray-based Kentucky HempWood, which makes hardwood floors from hemp and uses Kentucky soybean oil as an adhesive.
“The #1 problem with hemp is this: The federal government hasn’t done its job,” he said. “The Food and Drug Administration has not provided any clarification to the hemp industry as to what the regulatory framework will be.
“Many of you are probably all familiar with CBD (cannabidiol), one of around 100 different cannibinoids found in the flowering part of the hemp plant. We think it has many advantages. We believe that many people use it and get benefits from it, but the FDA will tell you today that it is illegal to consume CBD oil. But still, you could go to any gas station in America today 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 the harvesting, processing, and sale of hemp.
Quarles also spoke about solar farms on Kentucky lands, a burgeoning event in western Kentucky. Solar farms are built on private land with the permission of the landowners.
“It’s one of those issues that over the past year, a lot of solar companies have come up to landowners and said, ‘Hey, let’s build,'” he said. “No. 1, I’m a personal property rights guy. In general, if you own an asset, if you own a car, etc., you should be able to do what you want with it.
“Some farmers see this as a way of raising revenue to save a farm, but I also think there is a lot of confusion on this issue. There is indeed solar legislation that is currently being considered by the General Assembly.”
Quarles said there should be a minimum framework of regulations for solar farms statewide, including information on setbacks and interactions of solar farms with local power grids.
Quarles said agriculture in Kentucky was the industry hardest hit by the Dec. 10-11 tornadoes.
“It has hit rural areas,” he said. “It basically went from the banks of the Mississippi to south of Louisville. We actually had livestock dead from this tornadic event as far south as Louisville, Kentucky – 200 miles, several different systems, an unfortunate loss of life.
“It was absolutely devastating when 30 chicken coops – worth about a million dollars each – collapsed. We had a feed mill down in Graves County that not only went offline, but that one feed mill was supplying feed to 200 other farms. We had to redirect feeds from other states.”
After the meeting, Quarles told The Sun that he has not yet declared that he will run for office in the 2023 election, but is “strongly considering running for governor of Kentucky in 2023.”