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.
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.
Kentucky's first experimental hemp crop has grown with the arrival of another shipment of imported seeds that immediately went into the ground.
The state's agriculture department says nearly 950 pounds of Canadian seeds cleared customs without any legal drama. An earlier shipment from Italy was detained for a time by customs officials in Louisville, setting off a legal fight between the state agency and the federal government.
Adam Watson, the agriculture department's hemp coordinator, said the Canadian seeds were planted last week. He said seeds put into the soil in late May have already sprouted into leafy plants that are six feet high or taller.
Test plots across the state will help researchers and farmers determine the crop's potential in Kentucky.
Kentucky’s burgeoning hemp industry may receive a shot in the arm later this year if the state changes a loan program for agricultural processors.
Roger Thomas is the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. He says a loan program designed to cover the costs of processing other agricultural products could apply to hemp processing once state universities have determined which hemp products are best suited for Kentucky.
“If the research proves that it’s a viable crop for Kentucky farmers, then perhaps later this year the Ag Development Board might look at tweaking some guidelines to allow the County Agricultural Investment Program, the county funds, to be accessed for that purpose.”
State agriculture experts predict that the cost of creating infrastructure for a new hemp industry will affect how successful it can become.
A 250-pound shipment of hemp seeds detained by federal officials for two weeks has been delivered to Kentucky's Agriculture Department.
The seeds that spurred a legal fight are expected to be planted in Kentucky soil in the coming days for research projects.
The seed from Italy arrived on a UPS truck Friday at the department's office in Frankfort.
Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff to state agriculture commissioner James Comer, says the seeds will be divided into batches for pilot projects around the state. Six universities are helping with the research.
The seeds were sprung from confinement after federal drug officials approved a permit Thursday, ending the standoff. The state agriculture department sued the federal government after the shipment was stopped by U.S. Customs in Louisville earlier this month.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he's trying to work with the Department of Justice to allow the importation of hemp seeds for cultivation.
The farm bill signed into law this year allows the industrial production of hemp. But two states that want to grow the crop are having a hard time obtaining the seeds they need. Kentucky has sued the federal government to force it to release hemp seeds. Colorado is waiting on Vilsack's go-ahead to get seeds from Canada.
Vilsack spoke Tuesday at a news conference in Denver on the upcoming wildfire season. He says his agency is trying to resolve a conflict between what the farm bill permits and what federal drug laws prohibit.
Vilsack says large-scale hemp cultivation represents an "extraordinary income opportunity." He says he's discussed the issue with Attorney General Eric Holder.
Hemp is the non-intoxicating agricultural cousin of marijuana.
A group of military veteran farmers will plant one of Kentucky's first hemp crops in decades this week.
The Growing Warriors group had planned to plant hemp seeds last week. After 250 pounds of imported seeds were held in customs by the DEA, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture sued the federal government, and withdrew its support of the Warriors’ planting until the matter could be resolved.
On Friday, federal Judge John Heyburn ruled that the state must apply for a permit to lawfully obtain the seeds, and paved the way for Growing Warriors to obtain individual planting permits.
“I think it’s a victory for everybody," says Michael Lewis, an Army veteran and Rockcastle County farmer who will be among those growing hemp.
Lewis says he plans to obtain a permit early this week to plant his first hemp crop.
Kentucky Agriculture Department officials say they're seeing progress toward ending a stalemate with the federal government over a shipment of hemp seeds meant for test projects.
Attorneys discussed the case Friday during a conference presided over by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II. Discussions didn't resolve the department's lawsuit seeking release of the seeds, and another conference is set for Wednesday.
Customs officials are holding up 250 pounds of seeds from Italy.
Agriculture Department official Holly Harris VonLuehrte said the agency plans to apply for an import permit to obtain the seeds.
Eight projects are planned in Kentucky, and six universities are helping with research.
Unresolved is whether private farmers can participate in the projects.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Schecter says the government wants to be a partner, not an adversary.
Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner says he’s looking forward to a court hearing Friday over his department’s lawsuit against the federal government.
James Comer this week sued three government agencies—the U.S. Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection--as well as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, over a 250 pound shipment of hemp seeds that is being held by federal customs officials in Louisville.
Language in the latest federal Farm Bill allows certain states that have adopted a regulatory framework to plant hemp for the first time in decades, and Kentucky passed a law allowing pilot hemp planting projects run by state-funded universities.
But Comer says federal agents in Louisville have continued to come up with reasons why the latest hemp shipment must be held. The Commissioner says a hearing is set for 1 p.m. eastern time Friday before a federal judge in Louisville.
“We believe that it’s a good sign, that we’re going to be in front of a federal judge this soon after filing a motion," the Monroe County native told WKU Public Radio. "So, hopefully we can get the seeds, because these seeds are going to the University of Kentucky. It’s not like these seeds are going to some shady, upstart business somewhere.”