Hemp

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Kentucky's Agriculture Commissioner is asking the federal government to reconsider its latest set of rules regarding industrial hemp.

Last month, Ryan Quarles said he would be reviewing the U.S, Department of Agriculture's 'Statement of Principles' to see how it relates to Kentucky's own pilot hemp research program.

A provision in the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp for research purposes, but did not remove the cannabis-related plant from the controlled substances list, giving federal agencies authority over restrictions.  

In a letter sent yesterday to the USDA, Quarles says he now has several objections in that several aspects of the principles contradict Congress' original intent and "could hinder industrial hemp's economic potential" in Kentucky.

Quarles says the new rules name the only economically viable parts of the hemp plant as the "fiber and seed" to only be used for industrial applications. Quarles says that over half of Kentucky's hemp acreage harvests cannabidiol - a hemp oil that does not come from either the fiber nor seed, and that the 'industrial application' proviso would also mean hemp could not be used in a drug, as a food ingredient or for artistic purposes.

Nicole Erwin, WKMS

A federal opinion on industrial hemp research programs may provide new opportunities in Kentucky.  

The report, called a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp, released by the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration holds no actual legal standing but does attempt to offer some clarity on how Federal laws will be applied to hemp research production.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is reviewing the opinion to determine how significant an impact the notice could have on the industry.

In the meantime, Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles said some progress is clear, like the USDA allowing Organic Certification of the crop and access to specialty crop grant funding.

“There are some areas that may be problematic, including the definition of what the actual definition of what industrial hemp is,” said Quarles.

According to the Commissioner, 60 percent of the state’s hemp programs are invested in hemp oil production, or CBD. After the first reading of the statement, the KDA is unclear how the federal organizations view this area of research.

In Kentucky, High Hopes For Hemp

Jun 27, 2016
Nicole Erwin, Ohio Valley ReSource

This story is from the Ohio Valley ReSource, a journalism partnership that aims to rethink how we use our resources in a shifting economy. With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, seven public media outlets in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia — led by Louisville Public Media — formed the ReSource to strengthen coverage of the area’s economic transition and the social changes that come with it. Read more here.

Farmers throughout the Ohio Valley want to revive a crop that was once a staple in the region: hemp. After a ban that lasted more than half a century, the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp in research programs. Growers and processors in Kentucky are aggressively putting that research program to work in hopes of winning a share of the booming market for hemp products.

Hemp cooking oil, nutritional supplements, and more line the back wall of a supermarket in Lexington where cashier Emily King rang up a customer’s purchase.

“Tons of people buy hemp oil,” King said. “We have hemp hearts and other products. We’ve definitely seen an increase in hemp product sales.” The store recently wrapped up its first “hemp week” promotion.

A western Kentucky business is bringing industrial hemp to market. 

Kentucky Hemp Works has opened a processing facility in Christian County.  Owner Katie Moyer says the small, family-run business is taking hemp seed and turning it into oil that can be used in a number of products, including salves and lip balms. 

"Quite frankly, a lot of farmers aren't going to want to put seeds in the ground if they don't think there's a market for it," Moyer told WKU Public Radio.  "We need to develop those markets and show farmers and elected officials that there is a market for these things."

According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the state has 35 processors participating in a pilot program allowed under the federal farm bill.  Kentucky Hemp Works is the first to locate in western Kentucky.

Kentucky began growing hemp in 2014 for research purposes after a decades-long federal ban.

More than 4,000 acres of hemp seed will go into the ground in Kentucky this spring.

Growers will oversee industrial hemp pilot projects for the third straight year. They hope the crop will eventually create jobs and marketing opportunities. 

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says the state must show the crop is viable by attracting not just farmers, but processors.

"We need to make sure we have processors who are willing to buy industrial hemp and turn it into a marketable product," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "If we can continue to show good faith progress on that front, it's going to make it easier to work with our federal delegation to de-couple it from its cousin one day."

Kentucky was a major hemp producer in the early 20th century, but the crop was later outlawed by the federal government because of its relation to marijuana. 

The 2014 farm bill approved by Congress gave states and universities permission to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. 

Hemp can be used in a wide range of products, including cosmetics, paper, clothing, and auto parts.

Whitney Jones, WKMS

Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program is expanding as it rolls into its third year.

This year, officials are looking to further develop the state’s hemp market. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says hemp processors are an important part of the pilot program.

“It’s important that these processors get a business plan that works and get it linked up with farmers,” Quarles said. “That way if, and when, congress releases [industrial hemp] as a legal crop to grow, a lot of people already have a market they can look toward and they’re not jumping into something head first without having someone to sell it to.”

Quarles says hemp researchers have identified the need to develop different methods of harvesting hemp.

“Depending on what the use of industrial hemp is for, it needs to be harvested at a different time in its life cycle. And that’s the sort of research that those agricultural researchers here at Murray know better. And, in fact, we may have to invent new equipment,” Quarles said.

Kentucky’s new agriculture commissioner says he will pick up where his predecessor left off when it comes to industrial hemp.  Ryan Quarles was in Bowling Green Friday for the Kentucky Commodity Conference. 

Commissioner Quarles says Kentucky is re-learning a crop that has been lost through three generations.  But pilot projects have shown that hemp can grow well here.  More than 900 acres of the crop were grown in 2015.  Quarles says the state must continue to develop a market for the crop.

"Right now, Kentucky is the best positioned state in the entire country for industrial hemp and it's important that we continue to encourage processors to locate in Kenutcky," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "Right now we have over two dozen."

The crop can be used in a wide range of products from paper to pharmaceuticals. 

The state remains a partner with Kentucky universities to grow and research hemp.  Efforts continue in Washington to legalize full-scale hemp production.

Barbetorte, Wikimedia Commons

Kentucky farmers are planting more than 1,700 acres of hemp  as part of the second year of the state’s industrial hemp research program, with 256 of those acres in west Kentucky.

State Kentucky Industrial Hemp Coordinator Adam Watson said this year there are 1,742 acres approved for hemp, up from 33 acres last year. Watson said the significant increase in acreage was possible because of new processors coming to the table.

“A lot of processors have been eyeing hemp for a long time. But of course the federal status basically prevented anyone from being able to work with it. So it’s something that they’ve been on the sidelines for a while. And when Kentucky was able to give them a home and give them the ability to move forward with their work, they were very eager to work with us,” Watson said.

Watson said 9 western counties have acres approved for industrial hemp. He said hemp would fit well in western Kentucky’s large scale farming of agronomic crops, but wouldn’t replace staples like corn or soy any time soon.

Bill Clift of Caldwell County is planting 30 acres on his farm. Clift said he was interested growing hemp because of the possibility of getting in on the ground floor of a new and prosperous industry.

Whitney Jones/WKMS

Around 120 Kentucky farmers will grow hemp this year as the state enters its second of five years of hemp research and testing as allowed under the Farm Bill.

Adam Watson is the industrial hemp program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. He says though growing hemp commercially isn’t legal yet, there’s growing interest in the crop.

“We’re still at the beginning stages of research,” he said. “Today we can’t sit and tell you this is the most economical way to produce it or this is the best crop to be growing it for like seed versus fiber but what we have learned is there is a wide interest from industry.”

Watson says the hemp can be sold to processors to make hemp seed oil or cake that can be used as food. He adds that like in all agricultural endeavors there is risk based on weather and the market, but he says the hemp is such a small percentage of the farmers’ production that there’s little risk involved.

“We’re still some years away from having a full blown industrial hemp industry,” Watson said. “It’s our hope and that of Commissioner Comer that with the completion of the Farm Bill five year program we’ll see an allowance at the federal level that will allow it to be legal.”

Watson says 326 farmers applied to grow the crop, and he is still working to finalize the farmers that will be allowed to do so.

Kentucky Department of Agriculture

The new spending bill that made its way through Congress last week contains language that forbids the federal government from getting in the way of industrial hemp pilot projects being conducted in three states, including Kentucky.

Several universities in Kentucky harvested hemp crops this year, but it came after a standoff between Kentucky and the Justice Department involving a shipment of hemp seeds from overseas.

The Courier-Journal reports Rep. Thomas Massie put the hemp-specific language in an amendment attached to the spending bill.  The commonwealth is currently accepting applications for farmers who want to plant a hemp crop in 2015.  Hemp had been banned in the country for decades.

Lisa Autry

The application window is now open for Kentucky farmers and processors who want to grow hemp for research in 2015. 

Several Kentucky universities, including WKU, grew hemp this year for the first time in decades.  The application deadline for the next round  is January 1.

The first round of pilot projects yielded a lot of data about production methods, seed varieties, and processing techniques. 

"This past year we were as far west as Murray and as far east as Bath County.  We'd like to see that continuation or even expansion on either end," said Adam Watson, Industrial Hemp Program Coordinator in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.  "Definitely, we have different growing environments in Kentucky."

Applications are available on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's website at www.kyagr.com/hemp.  Applicants who are selected will undergo background checks and site visits.

The State Agriculture Committee heard an update last week on Kentucky's hemp pilot project. In September, researchers at the University of Kentucky harvested the first legal crop in decades. UK Plant Sciences Professor David Williams says there's growing interest in a variety of hemp supported products.  "They're particularly interested in the vast of the long strong fibers for composite materials like car door panels, pseudo plastics, particle board type products, building construction materials," said Williams.

Kentucky Department of Agriculture

An agreement is in place between Kentucky and the federal government that aims to make hemp seed importing a more seamless process. 

Agriculture commissioner James Comer announced late Friday the two sides had reached an agreement following a dispute in May when a shipment of seeds was held up in customs for several weeks.

"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," said Comer in a written statement.  “We and the feds started out as adversaries, but by both talking and listening, we became partners in this process."

The agriculture department says it will fill out an application when importing hemp seeds and the federal government will process that application in an “expeditious” manner.  And, the Agriculture Department says the agreement means it has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit it filed against the justice department in May. 

Bringing It Home the Movie

A documentary called "Bringing it Home," which trumpets the benefits of industrialized hemp, was shown before an audience in downtown Hopkinsville Saturday.

The film, by two North Carolina filmmakers spotlights the effort to use hemp as a building material for homes and warehouses.

 “[It’s] a material that is mold and mildew resistant, fire-retardant, pest-resistant and in addition to that, it’s absorbing carbon out of the atmosphere as well as toxins. What they’ve found is that it’s not only breathable but a very good thermal regulating construction material," said film co-director Linda Booker.

Booker has shown the documentary in several states, says the film was well-received in Christian County.

 “It was really great to see such a diverse audience of all ages,” said Booker.   “I know that there were farmers there and people just interested in looking at new job opportunities and new economic opportunities for your state.  And of course we talk about this on a national level as well."

Several industrial hemp pilot projects associated with state universities continue this summer across Kentucky. The mission of those projects is to figure out which types of hemp seeds grow best in the current climate.  The documentary’s co-director is Blaire Johnson.

An industrial hemp official is working to clear up some confusion about the plant’s oils and extracts and their uses as Kentucky researchers work toward finding uses for potential treatments with cannabidiol, or CBD.

Hemp Industries Association Executive Director Eric Steenstra says the non-profit trade group has received several calls from customers who have bought hemp oil at health stores and want to know if their purchase has CBD in them.

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