Local farmers approved to grow hemp in 2019

January 27, 2019 | 3:00 am

Updated January 26, 2019 | 6:53 pm

Graphic by Owensboro Times

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has announced the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) approved 1,035 applications to cultivate up to 42,086 acres of industrial hemp in 2019. The KDA also approved 2.9 million square feet of greenhouse space for hemp cultivation.

“The numbers tell you what you need to know about the excitement about hemp in Kentucky,” Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. “The growth in the number of approved acres from 16,000 last year to 42,000 this year shows that Kentucky is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the hemp industry in the United States. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, 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.”

Owensboro resident Robbie Clark, along with his partners, received approval to grow hemp and believes it will provide farmers the option to grow something that will be in high demand due to its many different applications.

“From health and wellness aspects, to alternatives in plastic and textiles, hemp will allow farmers to supply an abundant need of the product,” Clark said. “We are aware of the many risks and stress involved with the farming industry, but are excited about taking on the challenge. You have to be comfortable with a lack of control and a great deal of uncertainty. We believe in hard work and the reward that accompanies taking risks and seeing it through to the end win or lose. Ultimately the hemp plant helps the patient, environment, community and the state we love. Our government has paved the way for farmers who are willing to step into the unknown and bring hemp back as an option for the farming community.”

Clark said that with the decline of the small farmer, this bill’s passage provides an opportunity to get people back to work and put Kentucky on the map as a leader in hemp production.

“For many years the public has been misinformed about cannabis and the differences between hemp and marijuana. The differences have become unclear and many consider the plants to be the same,” Clark said. “The hemp plant includes CBD cannabinoids, which provide benefits to the human body; however, marijuana includes large levels of THC that bring psychoactive effects.”

People suffering from epilepsy, extreme inflammation and severe anxiety can find great relief in daily ailments with CBD, according to many national studies.

“At one time the bluegrass state was the largest producer of hemp in America, with thousands of acres being cultivated,” Clark said. “Senator Henry Clay was a pioneer of the hemp industry and a believer of Kentucky hemp. He grew it on his Kentucky farm.”

The KDA received a total of 1,115 applications – 1,074 grower applications and 41 processor/handler applications. Clark and his partners applied and were approved as a grower for several acres.

“We all did extensive research on hemp and the benefits it presents for patient care, local farms and our community,” Clark said.

Partner Chris “Tex” Templeton said that he became interested after a friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

“I witnessed the remarkable benefits it gave him and an enjoyment of life that he hasn’t experienced in years. It changed my way of thinking and the possibilities that could be obtainable,” Templeton said.  

He discussed hemp cultivation and CBD benefits with his brother who’s been an advocate for the hemp plant and the benefits of CBD for many years in Kentucky.

“He opened my mind greatly about hemp…not only the benefits of those desperately needing it medically, but also the impact on Kentucky’s agriculture,” Templeton said. “I’ve studied agriculture and been in the agricultural business for over twenty years and know the potential this plant can provide for our agricultural economy in the state of Kentucky. I share this journey with two lifelong friends, who each have different backstories in pursuing this endeavor, but share a common vision of the future.”

Clark said the Ohio County farm where the hemp will be grown was established by his grandfather approximately 80 years ago and has seen everything from tobacco to cattle and is currently growing corn and soybeans.

“It’s a natural sanctuary and gathering place for our family and friends…which means a great deal to me,” Clark said.   

In 2018, 210 growers were licensed to plant up to 16,100 acres of industrial hemp and planted more than 6,700 acres. Program participants 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.

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.

Clark said the process is highly regulated from seed to harvest and he was required to specifically site — with GPS coordinates — where they plan to acquire the plants, grow the hemp, store and process the hemp.

Background checks were also required as well as farm ownership verification and documentation of the land will be used for farming hemp.

“We believe regulation will help ensure the quality and constancy of our products and help protect the industry from bad actors,” Clark said.

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. Although the insurance is not available for 2019, Clark said they calculated this into the risk analysis and understand that insurance may be an option in the future for farmers.

The passage of the farm bill also assigns primary regulatory authority of industrial hemp to the state governments where a regulatory framework is in place. The farm bill outlines minimum requirements a state regulatory framework must contain to gain approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Commissioner Quarles submitted Kentucky’s hemp plan to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue minutes after President Trump signed the farm bill on Dec. 20, making Kentucky the first state to file its plan.

In the future, KDA will conduct an analysis to reduce administrative regulations deemed no longer necessary due to the 2018 farm bill. However, there will be no program changes in 2019.

For more information and to view the hemp program regulations, visit kyagr.com/hemp.

To download Kentucky’s hemp plan submitted to USDA, click here.

January 27, 2019 | 3:00 am

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