Kentucky hemp fields could triple as applications soar

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Hemp fields in the U.S. state of Kentucky could nearly triple this year as state agriculture officials say they have approved applications to grow up to 42,000 acres of the crop in 2019, up from 16,000 acres last year.

Farmers do not always take full advantage of their hemp farming allotments, however. For example, last year only about 6,700 acres of the 16,000 approved went under hemp.

Hemp ‘epicenter’

“The growth shows that Kentucky is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the hemp industry in the United States,” following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, said Ryan Quarles, the state’s Agriculture Commissioner. “We believe Kentucky is ready to lead as the nation begins the process of transitioning to commercialization of a crop that connects our past to our future.”

Quarles said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) also approved 2.9 million square feet of greenhouse space for hemp cultivation.

KDA said it received 1,074 grower applications and 41 processor/handler applications. Applicants had to specify which parts of the plant would be the focus of their research — flowers, grain, or fiber — with some applicants indicated they intended to harvest more than one component.

40 new processors approved

The KDA said 40 new processors were approved to join 69 who previously received multi-year licenses that were renewed for 2019.

Several Kentucky universities will also carry out research projects in 2019, KDA said.

Participants in the state program planted more than 3,200 acres in 2017, 2,350 acres in 2016, and 922 acres in 2015. Thirty-three acres were planted in 2014, the first growing year.

Farm bill removes shackles

Individuals and businesses must be licensed by the KDA to grow or process industrial hemp in Kentucky. Under laws passed by the Kentucky General Assembly and the United States Congress, it is unlawful to possess any raw or unprocessed hemp, hemp plants, or hemp seed without a license from the KDA.

The 2018 Farm Bill removes industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act and gives hemp growers access to USDA programs such as crop insurance. It also assigns primary regulatory authority of industrial hemp to the states in those states where a regulatory framework is in place. The farm bill outlines minimum requirements a state regulatory framework must contain to win approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Kentucky the first state to file its plan with federal authorities.

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