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With Kentucky’s 2015 hemp production,
focus turning to what to do with harvest


An up-close view of a hemp at University of Kentucky's 2014 research plot (Photo from UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment)

An up-close view of a hemp at University of Kentucky’s 2014 research plot (Photo from UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment)


 

By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent
 

The second season of hemp production in Kentucky is about to begin and while much of the research has centered on how to best grow the plant, those involved are focusing on what to do with it once it’s harvested.
 

Earlier this year, applications were accepted by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture from those wishing to participate in this second year of pilot hemp projects. That included applications from perspective processors.
 

The 2014 Farm Bill made provisions for hemp research in states that had some type of legislation regarding the production of the crop in place. But it fell short of allowing full-scale production, primarily because of hemp’s status as a controlled substance.
 

Patrique Veille

Hemps seeds used in the 2014 pilot project (Photo from UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment)

There is current federal legislation pending that would allow for normal production. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 (HR 525) amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill is in committee but producers and processors are moving forward with pilot projects in hopes that hemp will once again become a production crop.
 

Mike Lewis, a Rockcastle County farmer participated in the 2014 pilot projects with his focus on the textile side of hemp production.
 

“Our first challenge is to figure out how to turn this crop into something that would fit into an existing infrastructure and utilizing existing manufacturing processes,” he said.
 

Lewis is working with processors who will eventually turn his crop into several American flags. Ironically, the first American flags were created from hemp.
 

“We’re pretty excited both as a farmer and a business that has been supporting us, it’s exciting to see it come to fruition and I think we proved that the markets do exist,” he said. “It’s going to take infrastructure not only to conform to existing manufacturing processes but also an infrastructure to be processed in the way that it used to be processed.”
 

As far as when the Kentuckians will be able to grow hemp as a production crop, Lewis said he doesn’t have any prediction on when it will happen but is confident it will be sooner rather than later.
 

“At this point, I’m not overly concerned about it happening. We’re in a fortunate position in Kentucky in the climate our ag commissioner and our legislators created for us in allowing to develop the processes,” he said. “It would be great if we could grow it in all 50 states but I don’t think it’s a hindrance here. If nothing else, it’s actually a little bit of an advantage at this point.”
 

Patrique Veille is the CEO of American Hemp, a company created to help future industrial hemp producers connect with processors. Over the last decade, the positive effects from an environmental, farming and historical standpoint make the idea of industrial hemp a no-brainer, he said.
 

“It’s taken time but at least now it looks like it’s is coming about,” Veille said. “There are an array of products that can come from industrial hemp and in terms of applications, there are quite a few.”
 

He added that in the process of getting hemp back into production, Kentucky has been a state to watch.
 

An up-close view of a hemp at University of Kentucky's 2014 research plot (Photo from UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment)

2014 hemp harvest (Photo from UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment)

“Kentucky is one of the states we’ve been keeping our eye on because they are leading the way legislatively with the program,” he said. “After the Farm Bill was passed, they were there fairly quickly to get the plots in and they definitely have the framework and are ready to see what the different varieties can produce. It was good to see Kentucky leading the way.”
 

Veille also said he thinks hemp will be a viable crop for farmers and once full-scale production begins, the interest and the markets will continue to grow.
 

With the passage of the hemp provision in the current Farm Bill, more than 20 states are now poised to begin hemp production once the federal government lifts final restrictions. But not every state is going in that direction. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez recently vetoed a hemp bill that had passed the state’s House and Senate by large margins.
 

Jessica Gelay, policy coordinator with the New Mexico office of the Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement that by vetoing the bill, Martinez had chosen to ignore the will of a supermajority of state lawmakers and has done a disservice to the state.
 

“It’s a shame that New Mexico is not joining the 22 other states – including very conservative states like Utah, Kentucky and Tennessee- that have enacted legislation to legalize industrial hemp for research and development or commercial cultivation,” she said.
 

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995.


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