By JORDAN STRICKLER
FRANKFORT, Ky. — For the upcoming year, 225 applications were accepted to cultivate up to 12,018 acres of industrial hemp in Kentucky for research purposes. There was more than 681,000 square feet of greenhouse space appropriated for indoor growers.
“Kentucky continues to lead on industrial hemp research, exploring every aspect of this versatile crop,” State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. “Because of the research conducted by our growers, processors and universities, I am more optimistic than ever that we can put industrial hemp on a path to widespread commercialization, once Congress removes it from the federal list of controlled substances.”
For the upcoming year, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) received a total of 257 applications – 243 grower applications and 14 processor/handler – with 43 participants renewing multiyear processor licenses.
In 2017, Kentucky’s farmers planted 3,200 acres of hemp, up from 2,350 in 2016, 922 in 2015, and 33 acres in 2014 – the first year of the program. In addition to 194 grower participants, 48 hemp processors are conducting research as part of the KDA program.
At the height of hemp production, Kentucky was the nation’s leader, with a peak of 40,000 tons in 1850. U.S. hemp production saw a major decline after the Civil War, and for several decades almost all of the country’s hemp was grown in the Bluegrass state.
Federal legislation passed in 1938, however, outlawed production of cannabis, including hemp. Despite a rise in production during World War II as part of the war effort, the industry was all but gone in the late 1950s.
Last July, however, bipartisan legislation was introduced at the national level which could invigorate the hemp industry. H.R. 3530 – the Industrial Hemp Farming Act – was authored by House Reps. James Comer and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The bill would exempt industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana” under the Controlled Substances Act.
However, the bill comes as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeks to reinstate more prosecutorial authority over marijuana, even as more states are legalizing the drug. If successful, there is possibility that this might impact hemp as well, given the fine line of legality with the two plants.
The United States is currently the No. 1 importer of hemp fiber, most of which it buys from China and Canada. According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that has not created an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest the U.S. market for hemp products is approximately $600 million per year. Currently hemp that is grown can be sold for profit, but only if authorized by a state's agriculture authorities.