Hemp, medical marijuana and family farms key platforms for ag commissioner candidate

Robert Conway

(Editor's note: A story about Robert Conway's opponent, Ryan Quarles, the Republican incumbent Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, appeared on A1 in the Sept. 25 edition.)

Robert Conway, an eighth generation Kentucky farmer, is seeking to become Kentucky's next commissioner of agriculture, a job he says life on the farm prepared him to handle.

"I think the values and lessons learned on the farm are second to none," Conway told The Times Leader.

Conway, a Democrat from Scott County, said family farms in Kentucky are in peril.

"We are losing a thousand farms a year," he said. "We had 186,500 farms in 2007. We've got 100,075 farms now. The economics are tough"

Conway said he originally decided to run for state agriculture commissioner to save family farms, but with tariffs and other financial struggles facing farmers, his campaign platform today is mostly about saving all farms. The general election is slated for Nov. 5.

"Agriculture is important to this state," Conway said. "It is still one of the top economic earners in the state of Kentucky. The problem is people are generating dollars and they're not making profit."

Conway has worked with Joe Trigg, who he defeated in May's Democratic primary, to incorporate various ideas from farmers across the state into a plan to make farming in Kentucky sustainable. One big issue centers around the emerging hemp industry, Conway said.

"Farmers don't know if they have established markets, if their checks are going to be good," Conway said. "The processing facility down in Mayfield has been put on hold because of financing difficulties. Right now it's kind of like the Wild West in the hemp industry."

"We're wanting to tackle the hemp program to get it on a more stable, structural foundation. Another thing we're wanting to do is to legalize medical marijuana."

The candidate said medical marijuana is a moral rather than political issue.

"Why would you not want to do something that would help your fellow man?" Conway said. "If it made somebody's life a little less painful and a little more tolerable, why would you not want to do something to help them?"

Conway sees medical marijuana as a way to help people in difficult medical situations, most notably, people with cancer.

"If we have medical marijuana, our proposal is that every farmer in the state of Kentucky that has a farm license would be allowed to grow one acre of medical marijuana," Conway said. "The medical marijuana would have to be grown in a closed structure, whether it's a hook building or a greenhouse."

He said this would generate $40,000 in revenue for each individual farmer.

Currently, it is up to the agriculture commissioner to decide who gets to grow hemp and how much they can grow.

"Our plan is to go to an old-fashioned tobacco-based type of program for hemp and everyone who has a licensed legal farm in the state of Kentucky can grow proportionate to the amount of land they own," Conway said.

Another issue he wants to work on is helping the state's beef industry. He said his ideas would help create more jobs.

"We send all of our cattle out to Nebraska and Kansas to finish," Conway said. "Well, we have the grain in western Kentucky, we have the water western Kentucky, we have the land in western Kentucky, and we've got the highways. We need to bring those facilities to Kentucky."

Conway said he has visited Princeton frequently, so he's familiar with the area.

"I know that these are predominantly rural agricultural counties and what is happening in agriculture right now is devastating to Kentucky's farms and farm families," Conway said. "We need to find ways to do things better."