A study conducted by the University of Kentucky contains mixed results concerning the economic viability of growing hemp. Hemp supporters have been pushing to get the crop legalized at both the state and federal levels, saying it could create thousands of jobs and help boost the bottom lines of farmers.

The UK study says hemp could be a profitable option for some farmers in central Kentucky, but not everywhere.

The Chairman of UK’s agriculture economics department told the Courier-Journal that he didn’t want to portray the study as a “negative outcome”, saying the crop “should be viewed as one more opportunity amid many opportunities for farmers." Leigh Maynard said there would be a big “learning curve” for producers and processes to climb, given that growing hemp in the U.S. has been illegal for decades.

Maynard said it's likely hemp could become a niche crop for some farmers. Hemp seeds can be used to make fuel, foods, and personal care products.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has made hemp legalization his chief legislative priority, and says he’s optimistic about the crop’s future despite the study. According to Comer, it’s difficult to estimate the economic impact of an industry that doesn’t exist.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says federal legislation that could lead to legalizing commercial hemp production may create  research opportunities at Murray State University. Comer praises the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a farm bill amendment this week that would allow university-level study of the plant that is in the same family as marijuana.

In turn, Murray State and the University of Kentucky have shown interest in developing research programs should the federal farm bill garner Senate approval. Comer says the research amendment was a compromise.

“I’m OK with this because I believe once the universities research it and people see this is not a drug – that it’s a totally different plant than its evil cousin marijuana – that people will realize that this is a crop that is an up-and-comer and that this is something we can use to enhance our manufacturing, said Comer.

The Monroe County native sees value in hemp as a viable alternative to hard plastics that he says are less sustainable and ecologically harmful.

Murray State Eyeing Hemp Research

Aug 12, 2013

Officials with Murray State University are eyeing hemp research should the crop be made legal in a federal farm bill.

The dean of the university's agriculture school, Tony Brannon, says he'd be interested in research opportunities involving hemp and focusing on how effective the crop would be.

Congress is weighing a provision to allow research into hemp as part of the 2013 farm bill. Kentucky has been pushing for the federal government to either allow it to be grown for commercial use or research.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says along with Murray State, the Toyota plant in Georgetown has already shown interest in using industrial hemp for manufacturing parts for the automobiles it produces.

The chairman of Kentucky's Industrial Hemp Commission believes it's just a matter of time before the crop is once again legal in the U.S.

Brian Furnish says it was a major accomplishment to get an amendment regarding hemp added to the farm bill recently passed by the U.S. House. While there's no guarantee the amendment will be included in the version of the measure passed by the Senate, Furnish says he's confident public support for hemp farming is growing.

The Harrison County farmer told WKU Public Radio that hemp seeds could become a popular food ingredient in this country.

"It's high in protein, it doesn't have any cholesterol. It has omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in it. And really nobody knows about it here. They eat it all over the world, but here nobody has promoted it as a food source."

Furnish also thinks the crop is a natural fit with a major industry in our region--auto manufacturing. He says if hemp is once again legal to grow in the U.S, auto manufacturers could follow the lead of their European counterparts who use hemp to build vehicle parts.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner says Republicans need to focus on the economy in order to win statewide office, as opposed to stressing social issues.

In an interview at WKU Public Radio Wednesday, James Comer said the GOP has alienated a lot of key voting groups by making hot-button social topics the cornerstone of their campaigns.

“I’m proud to be a social conservative, but I’m not going to run any campaign in the future—regardless of what I run for—specifically on social issues. That has driven off young voters, and that has driven off female voters.”

Comer’s comments echo much of what Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul has said recently about the future of the GOP, and the party’s need to become more attractive to groups of voters that will determine Republicans’ future electoral prospects.