WKU Public Radio News Staff
Thu May 15, 2014
Comer Postpones Hemp Seed Planting Following Standoff with Federal Officials
Kentucky's first legal planting of hemp seeds in decades is being postponed.
Officials from the Kentucky Agriculture Department, Kentucky State University, and pro-hemp groups were scheduled to plant hemp seeds Friday in Rockcastle County as part of a pilot project following the recent relaxing of state and federal rules regarding the crop.
But Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Thursday that the event has been postponed following a standoff between his department and federal officials over a detained shipment containing 250 pounds of hemp seeds.
The Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal government, in an effort to get the shipment released by customs officials in Louisville.
Kentucky lawmakers passed a law allowing hemp to be planted as part of university-based research projects. Hemp advocates say the crop's fiber and oilseed can be used to make rope, paper, bio-fuels, cosmetics, and healthy foods.
In 1970, the federal government placed hemp on the list of Schedule One drugs, making it illegal to grow.
Several pro-hemp groups and lawmakers will be in Rockcastle County Friday for the state’s first legal planting of hemp seeds in decades.
The Kentucky legislature passed a bill allowing industrial hemp to be grown as part of university-related research projects, and the recent Farm Bill passed by Congress relaxed the federal ban on planting the crop.
One of the groups participating in Friday's event in Mount Vernon is Growing Warriors, an organization that teaches military veterans sustainable farming techniques. Executive Director Mike Lewis says he draws inspiration from fellow veterans who have been fighting for decades to legalize hemp.
“It’s amazing to me that some of the older veterans have been working on this since the Vietnam War," Lewis told WKU Public Radio. "And just to see their grit and determination and resolve—that’s really what drew me to it. It’s just amazing how hard these guys have fought for this for so long.”
Lewis says despite the recent changes in law related to the crop, it remains a major challenge to import hemp seeds into the U.S.
“We still don’t have all of our seed in, and it’s still a struggle. It’s frustrating, because it’s one of those things that just doesn’t make any sense at this point. I just don’t understand what the problem is.”
Lewis says some farmers wanting to plant hemp have had their seeds confiscated by federal customs inspectors.
Those seeds are designated for several pilot projects throughout the state.