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Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles

Host Renee Shaw speaks with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles about his second term in office, issues facing agriculture, and his priorities for the 2020 legislative session.
Season 15 Episode 20 Length 28:52 Premiere: 02/09/20

Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles on Boosting Kentucky’s Farmers and Other Priorities

Despite his relatively young age, Ryan Quarles is something of a Frankfort veteran. The 36-year old just started his second term as state commissioner of agriculture. Before that, he was a three-term state representative from Scott County. But his Frankfort experience extends even farther back – all the way back to when he was a sixth-grader.

"My first assignment here was to serve as a legislative page," says Quarles. “If I got all As on my report card, my mom would allow me to come down and page for the Kentucky House or Kentucky Senate."

From running errands for lawmakers as a student, to working with lawmakers to pass legislation as commissioner, Quarles sees himself as a critical player in farm and food issues across the state, whether it’s expanding the Kentucky Proud marketing program, building a hemp industry, or developing other new opportunities.

“During the second term, we’re going to continue to elevate the importance of agriculture for rural economic development,” says the commissioner. “That doesn’t just include jobs, it includes investment, but also making sure that we have an advocate to make sure that we take Kentucky to international markets.”

Boosting Foreign Trade

The agricultural sector in the state accounts for one in every five jobs, according to Quarles, which puts farming second only to manufacturing in terms of employment. Taken as a whole, Quarles says farming generates about $45 billion annually in economic activity for the commonwealth.

But recent years have been hard on farmers. Quarles, who is a Republican, admits growers and livestock producers have been hurt by President Donald Trump's trade wars with other nations, which have resulted in retaliatory tariffs, particularly from China.

The commissioner says the future looks brighter thanks to phase one of a new trade pact with China as well as the recent signing of a new agreement among the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. He also foresees a new trade deal coming with England after its departure from the European Union.

The trick, he says, is to build on Kentucky's existing reputation as a producer of bourbon and racehorses to get other agricultural products to international buyers.

“Imagine the day when we use UPS, DHL or the new Amazon center in northern Kentucky, slap that Kentucky Proud sticker on the side of that box, and (ship) overnight perhaps a country ham to a Tokyo restaurant or Parisian meat market,” says Quarles. “That’s what we’re talking about.”

A Rough Start for Hemp

Hemp and hemp-derived products could be another significant export for the state. The 2018 federal farm bill legalized hemp production, and since then nearly 1,000 Kentucky farmers have started growing the plant, which has been touted as replacement to tobacco as a cash crop. More than 200 businesses have also set up shop in the state to process hemp fibers and oil for consumer goods.

Interest in the crop and health products made from hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD oil, has been substantial. Quarles estimates that farmers and processors sold $100 million in hemp and hemp-related products in 2019 alone.

But the outlook for hemp remains uncertain. Last week, the state's leading hemp processor, GenCanna, filed for bankruptcy protection. Meanwhile, prices for raw hemp have plummeted.

Quarles says the hemp market is volatile and investors are reluctant to enter the field because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to decide how to classify CBD and other hemp derivatives. He says the products could be regulated as health care supplements called nutraceuticals, or as prescription-strength pharmaceuticals. Other products, such as hemp oil, could be considered food-grade, which makes them safe for cooking, he says.

“The fact they haven't decided primarily due to lack of research and lack of data what they’re going to do yet, has caused hesitancy in the market,” says Quarles. “We need peer-reviewed clinical research... They need studies to learn about the short-term use [and] the long-term use of these products.”

The commissioner says he's meeting with FDA officials to try to speed that process along. He says the commonwealth could be an epicenter for hemp- and CBD research, given the reputations of the Universities of Louisville and Kentucky, and because so much hemp cultivation and processing already occurs here. Until then, he tells those considering a jump into hemp to be cautious.

“We encourage every farmer, every processor to acknowledge the financial risk before they choose to grow or process hemp,” says Quarles. “It's still in its infancy, and just have some patience, and don't risk more than you're willing to lose.”

Migrant Labor

Hemp regulation isn't the only issue Quarles wants Washington to address. He says it's time Congress finally acted on comprehensive immigration policy.

“What we need is a legal immigration system that provides an adequate guest-worker component so that those choosing to come to Kentucky... for seasonal jobs can do so legally,” he says.

The commissioner says reform is crucial because the existing H-2A temporary agricultural worker program is too cumbersome, rigid, and expensive. He says migrant workers are vital to the state's farmers and consumers.

“It’s important to realize that if people enjoy eating food in America that there is a major part of our efficiency, a major part of our economy that depends on the hard-working members of the migrant community, many of which are here to provide for their families back home,” says the commissioner.

A bill moving through the Kentucky legislature would require local police agencies to cooperate with federal officials on immigration enforcement. Senate Bill 1 would also prohibit communities from labeling themselves as so-called sanctuary cities. Opponents argue the measure could adversely impact the availability of migrant farm labor in the state. Quarles says he's heard no concerns from farmers about the legislation.

Other Issues

Quarles is working with state lawmakers on several priority measures of his agency. He supports an update the state's food safety laws to ensure that they align with new federal regulations. He also wants the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to be reorganized to better handle its licensing and regulatory activities.

The commissioner also backs a measure by state Rep. Richard Heath (R-Mayfield) to direct more incentives and Opportunity Zone growth funds to struggling rural communities. He says farmers and small towns also need access to high-speed internet service as a tool for business, job creation, and education.

“You’ve got to start thinking about internet the same way we thought about electrifying Kentucky back in the 1930s and 1940s,” Quarles says. “This is something that needs to be done – it’s an infrastructure project.”

As with internet service, Quarles says access to health care is also vital to helping rural Kentucky thrive. In recent months, two rural hospitals in the state announced they would cease operations. A study last year by Navigant Consulting indicated nearly a quarter of the state's rural hospitals are at risk of closing.

“If you don't have access to internet, and if you don’t have quality of life issues such as access health care, you're less likely to get that millennial to move out to the rural areas,” says Quarles. “It's about creating an environment for success, an environment where companies are wanting to come to Kentucky.”

As lawmakers craft a new two-year budget for the commonwealth, Quarles says it's important for the Department of Agriculture to have the money it needs to fulfill its statutory duties. But he says he's also prepared for limited funding if that's what is required of his agency to help pay the pension obligations owed to state workers and retirees. During his first term as commissioner, he says the agency experienced six budget cuts within three years.

Quarles is expected to seek another political office in the future since he's limited to only two terms as agriculture commissioner. Until then, he says he has the "dream job" of someone who loves politics, policymaking, and advocating for farmers.

“I want to make sure that I spend the next four years determined to be the best commissioner of agriculture Kentucky has ever had,” says Quarles.

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Kentucky Edition host Renee Shaw in a green dress with the logo superimposed over the image along with a CHECK SCHEDULE button.Kentucky Edition host Renee Shaw in a green dress with the set behind her and the logo superimposed over the image along with a CHECK SCHEDULE button.

Season 15 Episodes

UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig

S15 E24 Length 26:41 Premiere Date 03/22/20

Kentucky Treasurer Allison Ball/McLeod's Coffee House

S15 E23 Length 27:27 Premiere Date 03/15/20

Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon

S15 E22 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 02/23/20

Georgetown College President William Jones

S15 E21 Length 27:02 Premiere Date 02/16/20

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles

S15 E20 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 02/09/20

Kentucky House Minority Whip Angie Hatton

S15 E19 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 02/02/20

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron

S15 E18 Length 28:17 Premiere Date 01/26/20

Secretary of State Michael Adams

S15 E17 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 01/19/20

Kentucky House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins

S15 E16 Length 22:01 Premiere Date 01/12/20

Ashli Watts - Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

S15 E15 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 01/05/20

U.S. Attorney Robert Duncan

S15 E14 Length 27:18 Premiere Date 12/15/19

Inclusivity in Fashion - Frankie Lewis; RaeShanda Johnson

S15 E13 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 11/24/19

Dayna Seelig

S15 E12 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 11/17/19

Rachael Denhollander

S15 E11 Length 26:42 Premiere Date 11/10/19

Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland

S15 E10 Length 26:55 Premiere Date 11/03/19

Alice Allison Dunnigan - Pioneering Journalist

S15 E9 Length 26:37 Premiere Date 10/27/19

Sharon Price and Damon Cobble

S15 E7 Length 27:07 Premiere Date 10/13/19

Terry Brooks - Kentucky Youth Advocates

S15 E6 Length 27:47 Premiere Date 10/06/19

Aaron Thompson - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

S15 E5 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 09/29/19

Opioid Addiction Response and Research

S15 E3 Length 28:42 Premiere Date 09/15/19

Pastor Edward Palmer

S15 E2 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 09/08/19

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers

S15 E1 Length 28:14 Premiere Date 09/01/19

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Premiered On: 06/06/2021

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Devine Carama - ONE Lexington - S18 E17

  • Wednesday February 1, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday February 1, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Dayna Seelig - S15 E12

  • Friday January 27, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Rachael Denhollander - S15 E11

  • Thursday January 26, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland - S15 E10

  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Alice Allison Dunnigan - Pioneering Journalist - S15 E9

  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Terry Brooks - Kentucky Youth Advocates - S15 E6

  • Monday January 23, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Former Congressman John Yarmuth - S18 E16

  • Sunday January 29, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 28, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 28, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Pastor Edward Palmer - Racial Bias and Juvenile Justice Reform - S15 E2

  • Friday January 20, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Mike Runyon and Sherita Miller; Wendy Kobler - S14 E35

  • Thursday January 19, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 2:11 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 1:11 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Brent Hutchinson; Christine Thompson - Education - S14 E32

  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Education in Rural Eastern Kentucky - S14 E27

  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform - S14 E25

  • Monday January 16, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Former State Rep. Joni Jenkins - S18 E15

  • Sunday January 22, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 21, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 21, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Colene Elridge - S14 E23

  • Friday January 13, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Marcie Timmerman - Mental Health and Wellness - S13 E43

  • Thursday January 12, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tiffany Manuel - Affordable Housing - S13 E42

  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Shining a Spotlight on Epilepsy - S13 E35

  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen - S13 E34

  • Monday January 9, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton - S18 E14

  • Sunday January 15, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 14, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 14, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Dr. Donna Grigsby - S13 E28

  • Friday January 6, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kosair Charities Face It Movement; Terry Brooks - S13 E25

  • Thursday January 5, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 5, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 5, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 5, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Child Marriage Laws in Kentucky - Donna Pollard - S13 E24

  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - S13 E23

  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Educational Innovation - S13 E21

  • Monday January 2, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bob Jackson - Murray State University - S18 E4

  • Sunday January 8, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 7, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 7, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Monday January 2, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Monday January 2, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Melynda Jamison - CASA of Lexington - S18 E2

  • Sunday January 1, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday December 31, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday December 31, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
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