Year two of Kentucky’s industrial hemp program is coming to a close with new opportunities on the horizon.
The 2020 growing season was tame compared to the green gold rush of 2019, but this year, stalwart hemp farmers stuck with the crop, growing roughly 5,000 acres compared to last year’s harvest of 26,000, said Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
“Thirty thousand (acres) were approved this year through the application process with 960 farmers signing up,” he said. “Those that signed decided to grow less acreage or re-evaluated growing in general. From the beginning, we have encouraged farmers to start small with what is still a very experimental crop. While CBD is still dominant, we are seeing a growth in the ever-changing hemp market as focus shifts to textiles, grain and fiber.”
While those farmers that stuck with hemp in 2020 grew less and diversified into vegetables and cut flowers, moving forward, Quarles believes that the state’s hemp future is in the process of maturing into a vast market, he said.
“We believe that hemp will develop into a mature fiber market,” he said. “There are well over 100 uses for hemp and as the market grows and the need for the crop matures, we will see it replace plastics and be used as a supplement to concrete as well as insulation. It will move into the automotive industry and ultimately gain prominence as livestock feed as well as being utilized for its numerous nutraceutical properties. Kentucky’s hemp industry will be a leader in all of the above.”
One important aspect of the market is that Sen. Mitch McConnell pledged $2 million for the research of hemp at the end of 2019, Quarles said.
“Our congressional delegation has worked tirelessly to secure that critical funding for hemp research in our state,” he said. “We have also had backing through the USDA so the good news is no matter where the debate falls on other variations of cannabis, there will still be significant hemp research taking place.”
The benefit to the research aspect of the hemp industry is that it isn’t only being driven by one institution, he said.
“The University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University and Murray State University are all conducting their own research,” he said. “The FDA needs more data so we are going to give them all that we can so they can move forward in unlocking the future of this crop.”
While the hemp industry is moving forward in Kentucky, the major obstacle in utilizing the full potential of the crop rests on the shoulders of the federal government, Quarles said.
“We hope that Congress will move forward and make the steps necessary to allow us to sell hemp in food and nutraceutical markets,” he said. “There are numerous entities chomping at the bit to market hemp, CBD and its other derivatives. Corporations like Rite Aid and CVS have shown tremendous interest in selling more hemp-based products, but they are waiting on the FDA. When the industry can move forward into its full potential, we believe that there will be sustained interest given its uses and the natural curiosity surrounding hemp.”
For Kentucky Hemp Association President Tate Hall, as the industry evens out, more and more government agencies and private enterprises are recognizing hemp as not a thriving industry but an eventual powerhouse across markets.
“More and more leaders across industry and government leadership are viewing hemp as a crop and less as cannabis,” Hall said. “As a state, our next step will be building up and developing state grown processors. We have more access to better genetics and we are seeing the overhead costs drop, especially compared to last year.
“A lot of battles and have been fought and won over the years and all of those small victories are building into what we have hoped the big picture will be. Everyone got a bit beat up last year, and we have taken a step back this year and focused on what the future will bring. We are working to even the playing field so that our farmers have the same opportunities as those in places like Tennessee, Illinois and Colorado. There is a lucrative and long future for hemp and it may have had its issues in the beginning, but hemp is here to stay.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, email@example.com