Kentucky prepares for its fourth season of growing hemp and expects this year to be its biggest yet.
As one of the first U.S. states to launch a hemp-growing pilot program, Kentucky is now accepting cultivation applications for what will be its fourth, and likely largest, growing season. Growers planted 33 acres in 2014, the state’s first year of its industrial hemp program. Kentucky farmers then grew 922 acres of hemp in 2015 and more than 2,350 acres in 2016.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture recently published a 25-page policy guide for 2017 that outlines the application requirements and fee structure. Under the new guidelines, producers are required to pay a nonrefundable $50 application fee, as well as an annual fee of either $400 or $1,000 depending on the size of their plot. Additionally, there is a new $350 fee per grow site for first-time participants to help cover the hard costs of running the state’s program. The department is accepting applications for farming participants until November 14.
“We expect 2017 to be the biggest year yet,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
This summer, a representative from the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy told a state legislative panel that this year’s hemp crops would cover 4,500 acres of Kentucky. According to Brent Burchett, director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Division of Value-Added Plant Protection, 61 of Kentucky’s 120 counties will have industrial hemp operations.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture operates its industrial hemp program under the authority of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, which legalizes the cultivation and harvest of hemp in states that passed hemp production legislation. Today, at least 30 states permit hemp cultivation, and most of today’s domestic crop is grown in Colorado and Kentucky.
The focus of Kentucky’s program is research. The University of Louisville is participating in the state’s pilot program, focusing specifically on exploring hemp’s capacity as a renewable biofuel. Western Kentucky University will continue its hemp farming for another season, this year expanding its industrial hemp test plots from a couple of acres to up to 5 acres.
The new guidelines also prohibit individuals or businesses from out of state to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky.
“We want to make sure that Kentucky continues to be the go-to state for industrial hemp,” said Quarles. He then added, “We want to make sure those growing the crop and responsible for the crop are accessible.”
Industrial hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, the same species as marijuana. However, hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it contains little to zero trace of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound found in marijuana that causes a psychoactive response. Hemp is grown and harvested for its seeds, fiber and stalk to produce products like food, body care supplies, building materials, biofuel, textiles, auto parts, and paper.
Hemp is also grown for cannabidiol (CBD) hemp oil, which is infused into nutritional supplements like pure hemp CBD oil, CBD tinctures or sprays, CBD liquids, CBD capsules and CBD topicals. CBD is one of over 85 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The non-psychoactive compound has shown through over 23,000 studies to interact with our naturally occurring systems to offer natural health benefits.
Because of the legislative limitations placed on domestic hemp production, millions of dollars worth of hemp is imported into the United States each year. The annual retail sales for hemp products in 2015 was estimated to be $573 million.