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McConnell touts Kentucky at forefront of hemp industry at Kentucky Exposition Center forum

By Mark Maynard
Kentucky Today

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said hemp has a long and proud history in Kentucky and he envisions a bright future for it while addressing a forum Monday at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

McConnell and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles were hosts for the hemp forum. They invited U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach and Risk Management Agency Administrator Martin Barbre to update and hear directly from Kentucky hemp farmers, processors and manufacturers regarding the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill provisions that legalized the production of hemp.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue also participated via video.

From left: Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Sen. Mitch McConnell, USDA Under Secretary Ibach, and Administrator Barbre participate in hemp forum and press conference on Monday. (Photo from Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office)

“The Commonwealth of Kentucky, as you know, has been a leader on this crop since the inception of the state’s pilot program,” Perdue said “Leader McConnell and Commissioner Quarles understand the importance of this growing crop in our broader farm economy and I’ve been clear about the need to establish the regulatory framework for future certainty and opportunity in the production of industrial hemp.”

McConnell’s legislation in the 2018 Farm Bill has allowed hemp growers and processors to align with federal agencies to realize the full potential of hemp in an open marketplace.

“Hemp has a remarkable history in the Bluegrass State,” McConnell said. “From Henry Clay’s fields at the Ashland Estate to helping the Greatest Generation in the Second World War, Kentucky has been at the forefront of hemp production in this country.”

It’s McConnell’s goal to see that happen again and Quarles said he will partner with him.

“The fact that USDA selected Kentucky as its first stop to learn about hemp underscores that the Commonwealth is a national leader for this industry,” Quarles said. “I am incredibly grateful to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for championing the legalization of hemp nationwide in 2018 and for his willingness to keep up the fight for our hemp community as we transition to the widespread commercialization of hemp.”

In December, President Trump signed into law the 2018 Farm Bill, which included McConnell’s initiative to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. Last week, McConnell sent letters to several federal financial regulators encouraging them to help hemp farmers and producers explore the full economic opportunity of hemp.

In 2014, in collaboration with agriculture leaders in Kentucky and throughout the nation, McConnell secured language in that year’s Farm Bill to authorize hemp research pilot programs, which is what Kentucky continues to operate under today. He also used his position as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee to insert provisions in yearly appropriations bills to ensure that hemp produced from the pilot programs could be transported, processed and marketed without interference from the federal government.

Under the guidance of Quarles and his predecessor, now-U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-KY, these programs have allowed Kentucky farmers to both research the plant and to demonstrate its potential as a viable cash crop.

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