NAIHC.org, Lexington, Kentucky, May 8, 2015 – Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s goal “to brand Kentucky as a leader in industrial hemp production” is happening fast.
At an old tobacco warehouse in Lexington, Comer celebrated a year of rapid progress in reviving the state’s once thriving industrial hemp industry. “We’ve proven this is a viable industry in this state,” he said. “We’ve proven that our farmers want to grow it. We’ve proven that we can grow it.”
The proof that industrial hemp – marijuana’s distant, non-drug cousin – is back lies in impressive numbers.
Last year, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture had to sue the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to get the seeds needed for planting the state’s first legal crop in more than 70 years. But despite the DEA-delayed-planting hurdle, the state signed up 14 farmers who successfully grew industrial hemp in research plots on 33 acres.
This year, Comer’s research program involving seven state universities has 121 participants planting 1,742 acres. Proving the high level of interest within Kentucky among both farmers and processors, the 121 approved participants were selected from 326 farmers and processors who submitted applications to work with the state’s research program. And this year, Comer has announced that his department has gotten DEA permission to import the hemp seed needed to plant the 1,742 acres – so no law suit needed this time.
Because growing a crop makes no sense unless there is a market, another important number is $1.5 million. That’s what Kentucky famer and entrepreneur Andy Graves, CEO of Atalo Holdings, is investing to buy and process the hemp that Atalo has contracted to have 30 farmers grow on 546 acres in 12 counties across the state.
Last year, Graves launched his effort to revive hemp by contracting with five farmers who planted 25 acres. Graves says that if all goes well this year, “we look to have 2,500 to 5,000 acres next year.”
Comer praised Graves and 23 other licensed processors for investing in hemp. “With their investment,” he said, “jobs have been created, jobs are going to be created, and they’ve signed contracts with family farmers.”
Among the new investors, Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises and CW Botanicals of Colorado CEO Joel Stanley has committed $500,000 to transform Kentucky-grown hemp into Charlotte’s Web cannabidiol (CBD) used to treat epileptic seizures in children.
Kentucky’s industrial hemp research program is designed to identify best seed varieties and best practices for production, harvesting, processing and commercial uses. One measure of what’s possible in the future is that Kentucky hemp production peaked at 40,000 tons back in1850.