Kentucky, the leading industrial hemp-producing state in the country, is set to triple its production from last year in the coming season.
Kentucky’s hemp program continues to gain steam year after year, with 2017 set to be its largest growing season yet. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has approved 209 applications to grow approximately 12,800 acres of industrial hemp for research purposes this year, according to the department’s industrial hemp program manager Doris Hamilton.
Kentucky’s hemp experimental projects started in 2014, when farmers planted 33 acres. Every year the program has continued to multiply, and Kentucky farmers will produce nearly three times more hemp than a year ago. In 2016, 137 growers were approved to plant up to 4,500 acres.
“Our strategy is to use KDA’s research pilot program to encourage the industrial hemp industry to expand and prosper in Kentucky,” Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. “By nearly tripling hemp acreage in 2017 and attracting more processors to the state, we are significantly growing opportunities for Kentucky growers.”
“The program participants are researching all aspects of the plant and investigating crop production techniques as well as process and marketing,” Hamilton said.
Growing hemp in the United States without a federal permit was prohibited in 1970 due to its genus relation to marijuana and subsequent classification as a controlled substance. While hemp and marijuana are both members of the Cannabis sativa L. plant species, hemp is used to produce hundreds of products like paper and textiles, and contains a negligible amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Hemp is also grown to produce cannabidiol (CBD) hemp oil, which can be infused into nutritional supplements. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound shown through over 23,000 studies to interact with our naturally occurring systems.
Today farmers can grow industrial hemp as part of a state’s pilot program, which started in 2014 after President Obama approved Section 7606 of the Farm Bill. Kentucky was the first state to participate and has lead the country in production ever since.
Interested farmers can apply for participation in the program every year. Once accepted, they must go through an orientation and every crop location is registered with law enforcement. Participants are required to submit reports on their findings. Several universities, including University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University, are also participating.
“Research on industrial hemp shows that the commodity represents an opportunity to provide a shot in the arm for Kentucky’s agricultural sector,” Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement to The Richmond, Kentucky Register. “I am hopeful that growing hemp will help our farmers and create jobs. It’s an opportunity Kentucky must not miss, and based on the growth of research pilot programs in Kentucky, it seems our farmers agree.”
Nearly 10,000 acres of hemp were planted in the U.S. in 2016, but federal law limits production to research purposes only. These federal legislative limitations placed on domestic hemp production forces millions of dollars worth of hemp to be imported into the U.S. rather than grown in the states. The U.S. hemp market was worth $573 million in 2015 and the demand for hemp is growing “dramatically,” indicating that law reform allowing the commercial production of hemp could prove to be a big boost to domestic farmers.
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced versions of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act in 2015. The act, if passed, would remove hemp from the controlled substances list and give the green light for commercial production to American farmers. The bill has remained stagnant since being referred to the Committee on the Judiciary in January 2015.
“Although it is not clear when Congress might act to remove industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances, my strategic objective is to position the commonwealth’s growers and processors to ultimately prevail as national leaders in industrial hemp production,” Quarles said.