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County Farm Leads the Way with New Crop

A McCreary County woman is among the first in Kentucky to be approved to grow industrial hemp as part of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program.

Kentucky’s industrial hemp pilot program is a direct result of Kentucky’s 2013 Senate Bill 50 and the 2014 Federal Farm Bill.  Senate Bill 50 removed industrial hemp from the state’s controlled substance act while still requiring Kentucky to adhere to all federal regulations regarding industrial hemp.  The Federal Farm Bill made it possible for state departments of agriculture, where legal, to operate industrial hemp pilot programs geared toward research and development.  Officials are hopeful the Kentucky pilot program, now in its second year, will lead to a new, thriving industrial hemp industry for Kentucky farmers.

McCreary County’s Dr. Peg Taylor of Sawyer is excited to be among approximately 100 Kentucky individuals or organizations approved for participation in year two of the pilot program.

“I’ve been interested in industrial hemp for a long time,” Taylor remarked.  “I love hemp clothing, and I have my own hemp hat.  I know some about the history of hemp in Kentucky, so when the 2014 Farm Bill passed, I knew I was interested in being a part of the process.”

Industrial hemp, although of the same plant species as marijuana, is very different from the psychoactive flowering tops and leaves of marijuana.  Unlike marijuana, which averages about 10 percent (or higher) THC levels, industrial hemp THC levels cap out at .3 percent.  Since THC is the psychoactive plant chemical responsible for the “high” feeling induced by marijuana, an individual cannot get enough a “buzz” from industrial hemp.

According to a Kentucky Department of Agriculture website, industrial hemp has many different uses including:  fabrics, yarns, fiber, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, composites, animal bedding, foods, beverages, personal care products/cosmetics, oils, and pharmaceuticals.

Since the United States does not produce industrial hemp, we rely on imports.  Approximately 55,700 metric tons of industrial hemp are produced yearly with China, Russia, and South Korea being the leading producers and accounting for approximately 70% of the supply.  Except for the United States, all industrialized nations produce industrial hemp.

Although many of those approved in Kentucky’s Industrial hemp pilot project are growing hemp developed to produce oil, Dr. Taylor is pioneering hemp designed to produce fiber.  She has planted two different types:  Red P and ICI-51.

Last year, permits were granted to approximately twelve individuals or organizations to plant 33 ½ acres across the state with thirty-eight varieties of seeds as part of the Kentucky pilot program.  Obtaining approval for participation in the pilot program is time-consuming.  Taylor first completed the application process and then underwent a background check conducted by Kentucky State Police.  She also had to identify all people who might, at any time, be handling her seed or hemp.    She was also required to sign a memorandum of understanding which, among other constraints, requires her to allow law enforcement access to her farm and to provide samples of the industrial hemp she raises to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.  She also agreed to the forfeiture and destruction of any hemp that might exceed the THC cap level.  After completing the approval process, Taylor waited.  Finally in mid-May, she was notified of her approval to receive seed.

When planting day finally arrived on May 28, Taylor and her crew were frantic to get the seed planted ahead of the rain.  Taylor and Alice Grover did the seeding and a team of three young men followed behind covering the seed.  Taylor planted approximately ¼ of an acre on plowed up pasture ground.  The process of planting was simple:  plowing, disking, and no use of pesticides.

It takes 90 to 110 days for the plants to mature.  Much like hay, the plants are monitored so they can be harvested before blooming.  Two weeks prior to harvest, teams from the Department of Agriculture will arrive to check THC levels of the plants.  Because her harvest will be small, Taylor’s crop, much like tobacco, will be harvested with machetes and left to dry on the ground or in shocks.  Taylor will sell the fiber of her crop or keep it to use in creative, artistic endeavors.

Taylor is excited about the potential economic impact of hemp.

“I don’t have enough acreage to be profitable,” she remarked.  “But if enough small farmers begin growing and sharing equipment and marketing knowledge, raising industrial hemp could be profitable.”

Taylor noted that growing industrial hemp is now the environmentally correct thing to do since, due to its lack of natural enemies, it doesn’t require poisonous pesticides for growth.  She also sees it as a cash crop replacement for tobacco.

“I’m curious,” Taylor said with a grin.  “I want to know how to grow it, and I want to discover new uses for industrial hemp-particularly in using it for crafts.  I want to be able to encourage others to jump in and begin growing!  I’m all about getting people to do things that provide for the future.”

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