industrial hemp

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.

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.

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.

Test Hemp Crop Grows With Arrival of More Seeds

Jul 15, 2014

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.

The most recent farm bill is allowing a handful of farmers across the country to put hemp, the nonpsychoactive cousin of marijuana, in the ground.

The bill allows small-scale experimentation with the plant. But despite the new law, many farmers say they're getting mixed messages from the federal government.

Feds Release Hemp Seeds to Kentucky Officials

May 23, 2014
Kentucky Department of Agriculture

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.

Ag Secretary: U.S. Must Figure Out Hemp Production

May 20, 2014
U.S. Department of Agriculture

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.

Hemp Seeds Will Go Into Kentucky Soil This Week

May 19, 2014

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 Dept. of Agriculture

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.”

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.

Hemp Seed Shipment Remains Stuck in Customs in Louisville

May 12, 2014
Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says federal customs officials are blocking the arrival of imported seeds brought in as part of the state's first hemp crop in decades.

Comer said Monday the delay is "government overreach at its worst."

The 250-pound shipment of hemp seeds from Italy has been in limbo for days in Louisville. Comer's chief of staff, Holly Harris VonLuehrte, says the department is prepared to go to court unless customs officials release the seeds.

Hemp production was banned when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

The crop's comeback began with passage of a new federal farm bill. It allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states such as Kentucky that allow the growing of hemp.

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