By Matt Hughes
Will hemp be a major player in the future of Kentucky agriculture?
Believe it or not, hemp was once one of the United States’ most important crops, and Kentucky, for a century, was at the center of this industrial boom.
Throughout the 19th century, Kentucky’s “bluegrass” region, which included Fayette, Woodford, Jessamine, Garrard, Clark, Bourbon, Boyle, Scott and Shelby counties, turned out more hemp that any one region in the country. More than one third of the nation’s 400 bagging, bale rope and cordage factories were located there.
There were ups and downs as industrial hemp competed with other cash crops, such as cotton, for dominance, but hemp always seemed to come back.
Then, in September 1937, hemp prohibition began. With the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act, the federal government began to crack down on the possession and cultivation of cannabis by requiring a stamp to grow the crop.
The last commercial hemp fields were planted in Wisconsin in 1957.
In 1969 in Leary v. United States, part of the Act was ruled to be unconstitutional as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, since a person seeking the tax stamp would have to incriminate him/herself. In response, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act and marijuana officially became a drug.
Congress banned hemp largely because at the time it was said to be a violent and dangerous drug. The problem is, hemp is not a drug.
Although hemp is often confused with its closely related cousin — marijuana — its uses are actually quite different. While marijuana is the party animal in the family, hemp is more of a workaholic. In the early days of the U.S. it was used to manufacture rope, canvas, fabric and paper.
According to leafscience.com, a Canadian website covering the latest news and facts about marijuana, science proves the difference. It comes down to the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
“While marijuana plants contain high levels of THC, hemp contains very little of the psychoactive chemical,” said a Leaf Science report from Sept. 14, 2014. “This single difference is what most rely on to distinguish hemp from marijuana. For example, countries like Canada have set the maximum THC content of hemp at 0.3 percent. Any cannabis with higher THC levels is considered marijuana instead.”
Potential hemp farmers got a brief glimpse of hope in 2014. Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 allows states to permit the growth of industrial hemp.
Thirteen states, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia, took advantage of that act to allow industrial hemp farming for research and commercial purposes.
However, on Aug. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, released a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp.
Last week, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles responded to that statement, urging the federal government to reconsider positions that would impede the ability of Kentucky and other states to carry out research projects on industrial hemp.
“I am concerned that some of the positions set forth in [the] Statement of Principles could hinder industrial hemp’s economic potential by imposing restrictions narrower than the parameters defined by Congress,” Commissioner Quarles wrote in a letter to three federal agencies dated Sept. 12. “KDA [Kentucky Department of Agriculture] respectfully urges you to reconsider these problematic positions, and to join KDA in our efforts to lay a solid foundation for future growth.”
Highlighted in his letter were three key problems with the statement that he said “are contrary to Congressional intent or otherwise inadvisable.” There are:
n Redefining “industrial hemp” to include only historically proven applications (fiber and seed) while excluding other potential applications. Commissioner Quarles said the Statement excludes cannabidiol (CDB), which advocates claim has a wide variety of health benefits. Commissioner Quarles said more than half of the industrial hemp acreage cultivated this year by pilot program participants in Kentucky is being raised to harvest CBD.
n Broadening the definition of THC beyond the definition in federal law. The Statement attempts to redefine the federal definition of industrial hemp.
n Prohibiting transfers of hemp seeds and plants across state lines. Federal law prohibits spending federal funds to prevent the transport of hemp grown by a participant in an industrial hemp research pilot program. Federal law even permits importation of hemp seeds and plants from foreign sources under the authority of a research pilot program and the importation and sale of internationally grown hemp grain and fiber.
Data from the KDA show that under current federal restrictions, Kentucky and other states are currently missing out on a major cash producing crop.
Without commercial industrial hemp production in the United States, the domestic market is largely dependent on imports, both as finished hemp-containing products and as ingredients for use in further processing.
“More than 30 nations grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity,” reports the KDA website. “The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not allow industrial hemp production. Current industry estimates report that U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year.”
Hemp is used in a range of foods that include milks, tofu, yogurt, snack bars, granola, waffles, pancake mix, oatmeal, protein powder, oil and shakes. It also goes into fabrics and textiles, yarns and raw or processed spun fibers, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, composites, animal bedding, body care products, nutritional supplements, industrial oils, cosmetics, personal care products and pharmaceuticals.
Earlier this month, the USDA announced that certified pilot programs for industrial hemp are now eligible for National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) federal grant funding. Officials are hopeful this will provide ample support to a number of pilot programs in Kentucky.
“The USDA determining that industrial hemp research projects are eligible to compete for federal funding through existing grant programs is a good development for Kentucky farmers and helps ensure that industrial hemp pilot programs can continue with federal assistance,” said Senator Mitch McConnell. “It also demonstrates that the federal government agrees that this is a crop worth researching. Senator Paul and I have heard from countless Kentuckians regarding industrial hemp’s potential to expand agricultural opportunities for farmers and grow our economy and we look forward to continuing to work with the Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, researchers in the state, and our colleagues in Congress to ensure that hemp research continues to move forward and that Kentucky remains the lead state in demonstrating how industrial hemp could once again be a cash crop for Kentucky.”
So, with everything falling into place, the stage appears set for Kentucky and hemp to once again be bound together in success.
“Historically, Kentucky was a leader in hemp production, and it is already staking out its position at the head of the pack once again,” said Senator Paul. “I’m pleased to see the USDA respond to Kentucky farmers’ concerns by officially leveling the playing field for industrial hemp pilot programs.”
MATT HUGHES is the editor of the Journal Enterprise. Reach Matt at 270-667-2068 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program now taking applications for 2017
New measures set to enable sustained growth of the program
FRANKFORT — Kentuckians interested in participating in the industrial hemp research
pilot program in 2017 are invited to submit an application with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
The KDA operates its program under the authority of a provision of the 2014 federal farm bill, 7 U.S.C. § 5940, that permits industrial hemp pilot programs in states where hemp production is permitted by state law. Participants planted more than 2,350 acres of hemp in 2016 compared with 922 acres in 2015 and 33 acres in 2014, the first year of the program.
Applicants should be aware of important new measures for the 2017 research program, including the following:
- To strengthen the department’s partnership with state and local law enforcement officers, KDA will provide GPS coordinates of approved industrial hemp planting sites to law enforcement agencies before any hemp is planted. GPS coordinates must be submitted on the application. Applicants must consent to allow program staff and law enforcement officers to inspect any premises where hemp or hemp products are being grown, handled, stored, or processed.
- To promote transparency and ensure a fair playing field, KDA will rely on objective criteria, outlined in the newly released 2017 Policy Guide, to evaluate applications. An applicant’s criminal background check must indicate no drug-related misdemeanor convictions, and no felony convictions of any kind, in the past 10 years. Staff with the KDA’s industrial hemp pilot project program will consider whether applicants have complied with instructions from the department, Kentucky State Police, and local law enforcement.
- As the research program continues to grow, KDA’s hemp staff needs additional resources and manpower to administer this tremendously popular program. The addition of participant fees will enable KDA Hemp Staff to handle an increasing workload without needing additional taxpayer dollars from the General Assembly. Program applicants will be required to submit a nonrefundable application fee of $50 with their applications. Successful applicants will be required to pay additional program fees.
Grower applications must be postmarked or received by the KDA marketing office no later than 3:30 p.m. Nov. 14, 2016. Processor or handler applicants are encouraged to submit their applications by the same deadline .
For more information, including the 2017 Policy Guide and a downloadable application, go to kyagr.com/hemp.