Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is a versatile plant that can be grown for its fiber, seed or cannabinoids. Hemp fields were once a common sight in Kentucky during the state’s prominence as the leading hemp producer in the U.S. Although commercial hemp production ceased throughout North America in the late 1950s, there is currently renewed interest in growing this crop. While for many years hemp has faced significant legal obstacles due to its close relationship to the marijuana plant, there are a number of states, including Kentucky, working toward reviving the hemp industry. Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the federal farm bill) authorized state departments of agriculture in states that have legalized hemp, including Kentucky, to develop pilot programs for industrial hemp research. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has been working with universities, farmers and processors around the state since 2014 to implement pilot programs. The 2018 federal farm bill removes industrial hemp and its extracts, including cannabinoids, with not more than 0.3 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration on a dry-weight basis from the list of controlled substances. However, it is still illegal to grow or process hemp without a license.
Hemp fibers have been used to manufacture hundreds of products that include fiber for injected/molded composite materials, twine, paper, construction materials, carpeting, clothing, and animal bedding. Seeds have been used in making industrial oils, cosmetics and other personal care products, and medicines. Hemp seed or oil can be found in cooking oil, salad dressings, pasta, and snack products. Hemp has also generated tremendous interest among pharmaceutical and medical researchers due to the cannabinoid cannabidiol or CBD.
Agriculture as a whole has changed considerably since hemp’s heyday, so past production information cannot be relied upon to determine how the crop should be grown and harvested today. The University of Kentucky began basic agronomic research in 2015 with varieties grown for each purpose - fiber, grain and cannabinoids. For details about UK research on industrial hemp, visit the UK Industrial Hemp Agronomic Research website at https://hemp.ca.uky.edu. Bob Pearce, professor of agronomy, and Tom Keene, agronomy specialist, both with the UK Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, are participants in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Program.
Click here for information from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) about how the 2018 farm bill impacts Kentucky’s hemp industry. Please note that individuals or businesses must hold a license from the KDA to grow or process hemp. For details about the KDA’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program, including applications and regulations, visit http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/hemp-pilot.html.
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