FRANKFORT, Ky. — The quest to once again make hemp a production crop in Kentucky gained a bit more traction with the announcement that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) and the federal government finalized an agreement on a formal process for importing industrial hemp seeds into the state, according to a KDA press release.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has led the charge to get hemp legalized once again, calling it a jobs initiative as well as a new crop for farmers
"With this agreement, Kentucky is now the first state in the nation with a legal, practical process through which farmers can partner with the state to grow hemp," he said.
"We and the feds started out as adversaries, but by both talking and listening, we became partners in this process. I appreciate the efforts of Judge John Heyburn, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the department’s legal counsel that made this happen."
The department had filed suit last spring to get hemps seeds into the state after the DEA ordered a shipment of seeds stopped at the Louisville airport until additional paperwork was filed.
With this agreement, a motion has been filed to drop that suit.
Those seeds have been used in numerous research plots operated by state universities across Kentucky.
The current farm bill, which passed last February, made previsions for the research to begin in states that had passed legislation to oversee the production of hemp.
Kentucky passed legislation during the 2013 General Assembly session, but it didn’t come easy and only passed in the waning minutes of the session.
Under the agreement, "the department will file an application with the federal government for a permit to import hemp seeds, and the federal government will process the KDA’s application in an expeditious manner. The federal government also agrees that the process established by the KDA will control the cultivation and marketing of hemp," according to information from KDA.
Brian Furnish, who serves as the president of the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council, said the recent development was a significant event and a step in the right direction in getting hemp planted as a viable crop for farmers.
"Kentucky is the only state that has gone through the legal process to get legally certified seed and a program in place with KDA to oversee it," he said. "Now we have private industry coming together to form its own association, so it looks promising to me."
Furnish added that the more he learns about the industry and the possibilities it holds, it gives Kentucky a good shot at being the lead state with industrial hemp.
He thinks the feds have taken notice of just how structured the state is when it comes to the way the issue has been handled and the infrastructure put into place once full production is allowed.
"I’ve talked to and worked with some expert people in the world on this, and they say if they set up anywhere, it’s going to be in Kentucky because of what has been put into place," he said. "It has been done right and not haphazardly."
Comer said this year has been a test not only of state farmers’ ability to grow hemp but of the process needed to regulate hemp production.
"Now that we almost have the first year behind us, and we have a formal process in place for KDA to import the seeds, supervise the cultivation of hemp and market the products, I hope we will have many more growers and projects next year, and we can make sure Kentucky is first in line when hemp production becomes fully legal in the United States," he said.