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KY: High On Hemp - New Crop Slowly Makes Inroads With Local Farmers

Ron Strider

Well-Known Member
What Chad Elkins chose as a double crop for his northern Warren County farm this fall may be causing a few double takes because of its distinctive leaf structure.

After his corn silage crop was harvested, Elkins opted to plant industrial hemp, a member of the cannabis family and a close cousin to marijuana that is slowly catching on among Kentucky farmers after the 2014 federal Farm Bill authorized growing the plant.

Elkins is one of only three Warren County farmers growing hemp this year, the third for Kentucky's Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program. Before that pilot program, no industrial hemp had been grown in the state since 1949.

Although much of his hemp crop was damaged by flooding, Elkins remains optimistic the crop will be a viable alternative to soybeans and other traditional crops.

"I see the future possibilities of hemp and want to be on the cutting edge," Elkins said Wednesday as he tromped through his field on Hays Pondsville Road. "I see the returns being good. I'm definitely going to continue to work with it."

And Elkins, who had to apply and pay a small fee to participate in the pilot program, isn't the only one who's high on hemp.

Mike Bullock, agriculture specialist at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, sees great potential in hemp at a time when farmers have been slammed by depressed prices for corn and soybeans.

"I'm trying to promote hemp as a new industry," Bullock said. "We're trying to educate farmers about the potential."

Because hemp has myriad uses in fibers and food, Bullock sees it as potentially a better cash crop than corn or soybeans. He said farmers could possibly realize a profit of $300 to $400 per acre off hemp, much better than the $200 or so profit from soybeans.

Those like Elkins who use it as a double crop can reap big profits, Bullock believes.

"They can make money off the corn crop then come back and make money again on the hemp," said Bullock. "It gives them another option."

Few farmers are taking advantage of that option now because the federal government hasn't yet recognized the legality of industrial hemp. That means farmers like Elkins remain part of the research into the crop's viability.

"If it ever becomes de-coupled from marijuana, there could be a lot more interest in hemp," said Dr. Paul Woosley, director of Western Kentucky University's Agriculture Research and Education Center. "If somebody asked me for advice, I wouldn't turn my acreage totally into hemp.

"That's the approach of the pilot program, trying to make sure there are markets for the products. Our state has taken a good approach and been very judicious in how they've gone about it. They're wanting to make sure that what's being grown is actually industrial hemp and not marijuana."

That's why farmers like Elkins will have their crops tested by the state to determine the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) level. If that level is above 0.3 percent, the crop will have to be destroyed.

"That's the technical definition of industrial hemp," said Dave Spalding, growers' representative for Winchester's Atalo Holdings. "It's cannabis with a low THC level. The difference between hemp and marijuana is like the difference between sweet corn and field corn. You have the sugar level in the corn and the THC level in hemp."

Spalding and Atalo are hoping industrial hemp continues to grow in Kentucky. From 33 acres of hemp in 2014, the state is now home to nearly 2,500 acres of the crop.

Spalding pointed out that the United States trails European countries and Canada in cultivation of industrial hemp. Markets for the plant, he said, are nearly limitless. The cannabidiol, or CBD, can be extracted as an oil that can be used in various food products and in lotions. The hemp seed is a high-protein product that can be used in foods, and the hemp fiber has uses in clothing, paper, automobile parts and rope.

"I'm excited," said Bullock. "This gives farmers something else to fit into their operations. But it's going to take several years to get it established."


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Full Article: High on hemp: New crop slowly makes inroads with local farmers | News | bgdailynews.com
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