Following suit with other rapid changes in state and federal regulations regarding hemp production and cannabis, Kentucky preps for the return of its old cash crop. The Bluegrass state was once the nation’s dominant producer of hemp in the mid-19th century, producing up to 94 percent. Banned since 1970, the state has an ideal climate for the crop and officials are ready to reestablish the its long history as a successful producer.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced on Monday that the state will begin its first legal hemp production in at least 50 years. State universities have been approved to conduct five projects testing the crop at various industrial sites to measure its ability to clean the soil.
The projects are all being sponsored by private contributions, and were made possible by a new farm bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. The framework was laid last year by Commer and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who championed Senate Bill 50 at the Kentucky General Assembly so that the state would be poised to produce hemp should it become legalized on a federal level.
Proponents of the project are hopeful that hemp production can help the state remediate the so-called “brownfields” throughout the Appalacia region of Eastern Kentucky, which were left by industrial production and coal mining. Hemp has been shown to pull many contaminants out of the soil, and it has the potential to help Kentucky reclaim and redevelop some of its polluted property.
The focus and preps for production of hemp in Kentucky is only possible since the recent provision was made to the new farm bill. While pollution remediation is valuable and a great cause, the extent of the project and the future of hemp production in Kentucky may be dependent on its potential as a cash crop. Commissioner Comer said his staff is researching whether or not the farm bill will go beyond just research and allow hemp production for sale, and this will be the determining factor in how much hemp is planted.
Comer hopes that by getting Kentucky involved with hemp production early the state can become one of the first to establish production, which would not only be excellent for state economy, but provide many more jobs in a promising industry. Will Snell, an agricultural professor at the University of Kentucky, advised that the state would need to amass research and marketing efforts quickly to beat a number of competing states to market. Hemp is currently cultivated in California, Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.
This could be just the beginning of the future of hemp production in Kentucky, well hemp preps and pilot projects at least. Other proposed projects in the works include a study of what is believed to be a Kentucky heirloom hemp seed and involve the Homegrown by Heroes program for military veteran farmers; a project with Murray State University to examine the viability of Eruopean hemp seed in Kentucky; a project through the University of Kentucky focusing on hemp cultivation for medical research; and another pilot program with the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University to demonstrate the basic agricultural issues, cost, and machinery involved in industrial hemp production.
By Mimi Mudd