Sunday, January 24, 2016

Kansas needs hemp as cash crop option

By Dane Hicks

What if, when the Taylor Forge metal fabrication plant in Garnett shuts down this month as previously announced and puts an end to 28 local jobs, its former employees were able to drive across town to find comparable employment at a local plant that processes locally-grown industrial hemp?
And what if, in addition to rotations of corn and wheat and soybeans, farmers in Anderson and other Kansas counties had the option to grow highly-profitable industrial hemp to sell to that local processor?
And what if, a local company similar to the one that formed the East Kansas Agri Energy ethanol plant in Garnett owned that processing facility, made excellent profits selling processed hemp fiber, oil and seeds to treat cancer and brain seizures and to use in place of plastics and cotton in a huge range of products and healthier foods? And what if that company paid dividends, as EKAE has done, to its local investors?
Hemp would be cool in Kansas, that’s what.
But right now, too many people in Kansas think industrial hemp is marijuana, and that misunderstanding among lawmakers and the public makes hemp growing and processing illegal in our state. That misunderstanding means we’re losing money and economic vitality to other states that are better educated and more aggressive.
Hemp products sold in the U.S. right now — most all made from plants grown in foreign countries — are raking in $500 million a year in U.S. sales — and our farmers who could grow the plant in Kansas aren’t making a dime of it.
Hemp ain’t pot. It’s similar in physical makeup, but it has a THC content of 0.3 percent or less — you could smoke a bale of it and never get high. It’s known in illegal drug circles as “Hippies’ Disappointment.”
The State of Kentucky gets it. Since our culture has moved toward heel and hiding cigarette smokers to the barn door, demand for tobacco — a former cash crop in Kentucky — has dropped to the point many farmers have left farming altogether. But the state agriculture department is pursuing hemp as a replacement for tobacco under a special provision of the new U.S. Farm Bill, and Kentucky is well ahead of other states in developing this futuristic crop.
Kansas can get there, but our Legislature needs to act this session. State Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, has a bill that would authorize the Kansas Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growing in the Sunflower State and get the industry kicked off here as a new option for farmers and an investment opportunity for entrepreneurs. It’s the same track Kentucky took to start developing the industry there.
The closing of Taylor Forge in Garnett drives home the importance of having job options in our communities. Kansas’ economy as a whole needs the opportunities hemp provides.
Our small towns have gotten too used to bad economic news. Kansas legislators should legalize hemp to give us another option to grow prosperity.

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