Kentucky was once the nation’s leader in hemp production. Lumped in with marijuana, even though it is genetically different, federal legislation that was passed in 1938 banned all cannabis production in the U.S., including hemp, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Mike Sullivan spoke to the Washington Times as a legally recognized hemp farmer. He noted that hemp requires one-third of the water that it would take to grow the same amount of corn and says it’s particularly easy to produce.
“It basically grew itself for two months,” Sullivan said.
Currently, designated farmers in a handful of states, including Kentucky, are allowed to grow hemp, but only as a research crop, in accordance with the Farm Bill and state law. Federal law still classifies hemp as an illegal drug, but allows it to be grown for research purposes by a registered hemp farmer, if state law permits.
Industrial hemp can be used to make approximately 25,000 products including fabrics, textiles, construction materials, insulation, auto parts, industrial oils, cosmetics, personal care items, foods, and pharmaceuticals. Nearly 56 metric tons of industrial hemp are produced around the world every single year. Americans import hemp products but are missing out on the opportunity to produce it. Instead, China, Russia, and South Korea are among the world’s largest producers of this crop.
Hemp is considered a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States. When asked how she felt about industrial hemp farming, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized that it was a crop but began talking about marijuana and how it should be a Schedule II drug, not a Schedule I drug.
In states like Kentucky, where farmers are allowed to grow hemp as a research crop only, growers are still required to get permission from the DEA in order to grow hemp, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture reports. Without this special permission, a hemp farmer would face the possibility of federal charges, even with a state-issued permit.
Last year, S.134 was introduced as the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 to the 114th Congress (2015-2016). The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. With the passing of this bill, farmers across the nation would be allowed to grow this versatile cash crop. It was a bi-partisan effort, co-sponsored by 13 senators, including both senators from Kentucky as well as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Almost two weeks ago, hemp was planted for the first time in several decades at Ashland, the 19th-century plantation of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay, in the central Bluegrass region of the state.
“There can be no doubt that hemp played a central role in Henry Clay’s life and that he was key to the Kentucky industry in the antebellum period,” Ashland curator Eric Brooks said.
Hemp has also been used in Europe and Russia to restore reclaimed land and remove heavy metals from the soil so that it becomes safer for other crops, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
In Canada, farmers saw huge profits from hemp — nearly $250 per acre. That’s not to say a U.S. farmer would immediately see that kind of payoff, but the potential for high returns in hemp farming is strong. Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin told LA Times that hemp requires half the water of wheat and provides four times the income.
“Hemp is going to revive farming families in the climate change era,” Loflin said.
Kentucky farmer Paul Glover thinks that hemp is the future of Kentucky farming.
“It’s really one of those things that when I saw this, I thought, ‘Well, I would like to be a part of that,'” Glover told Tristate Homepage.
According to that piece in the LA Times, when American family farmers are finally able to freely cash in on the hemp market, they will find that this historic cash crop is easy to farm, requires little help from farmers to thrive, and restores health to their soil. Plus, on the other side of the United States’ northern border, according to that same report, Canada’s hemp market “is verging on $1 billion a year.”