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The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has accepted over 200 applications from farmers who have been given the ok to cultivate up to almost 13,000 acres of industrial hemp for research purposes in 2017. Over 525,000 square feet of greenhouse space were approved for indoor growers, as well.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles stated, “By nearly tripling hemp acreage in 2017 and attracting more processors to the state, we are significantly growing opportunities for Kentucky farmers. Our strategy is to use Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture’s research pilot program to encourage the industrial hemp industry to expand and prosper in the state.” He continued, “Although it is not clear when Congress might act to remove industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances, my strategic objective is to position the Commonwealth’s growers and processors to ultimately prevail as national leaders in industrial hemp production.”

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture received just over 250 applications. Applicants were asked to identify which harvestable component of the plant would be the focus of their research: grain, floral material, or fiber. Some applicants selected more than one. Five universities will conduct additional research in 2017. The department officials named the recent decline in commodity prices as a factor that appears to be generating increased interest among growers in industrial hemp. In 2016, just under 140 growers were accepted to plant up to 4,500 acres. Program participants planted more than 2,300 acres of hemp in 2016, up from 922 acres in 2015 and 33 acres in 2014.

To enhance the department’s association with local and state law enforcement officers, KDA will add GPS coordinates of approved industrial hemp planting sites to law enforcement agencies before any hemp is planted. GPS coordinates were required to be submitted on the application. Applicants also must pass background checks and consent to allow program staff and law enforcement officers to inspect any location where hemp or hemp products are being handled, processed, or grown.

Quarles stated, “We have made collaboration and communication with the law enforcement community a top priority for KDA’s management of this research pilot program.” Staff with the KDA’s industrial hemp research pilot program assessed the applications and considered whether returning applicants had complied with instructions from KDA, local law enforcement, and Kentucky State Police. To advertise clarity and ensure a fair playing field while evaluating applications, The Kentucky Department of Agriculture relied on objective criteria outlined in the 2017 Policy Guide.

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For over a century, the Harrod family has put away a section of their farm solely for the purpose of growing tobacco. They had 20 acres to grow marijuana when Jane Harrod was a child while having an overall total of 400 acres that the family owned near Lexington, Ky. However, there were high revenues promised with about $1,000 per acre.

“Most all of us farmers raised some tobacco,” said Jane who is now 63. “Tobacco definitely put the clothes on our backs when we were kids.”

However, tobacco is not as reliable as it was in the past. Because of this, Harrod and many other families throughout the country are trying to revive a plant that had a strong run long ago: industrial hemp. Because hemp is derived from the same plant as marijuana, it is unlikely that it will grow as big as tobacco once was, generating billions of dollars, however, many families such as the Harrod family are willing to take a chance on this. There are high hopes for these crops to grow new vitality into the South’s family farms.

The efforts to bring hemp to the south, though, have not been met with friendliness from law enforcements. Law enforcement groups fear that hemp farms may actually be growing acres of marijuana, which would be extremely difficult to determine in the future. Most of The South has not approved of marijuana for either medical or recreational use, but it seems as if hemp is trying to make a comeback in states where tobacco was once the main cash crop.

Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia are just a few of the twenty states who have implemented laws that allow for researchers and cultivators to bring the plant back into play. More recently, just last month, the North Carolina legislature approved a proposal to do so as well, which currently sits on the desk of the legislature.

The halt of federal subsidies for tobacco years back in 2004 along with the decreasing demand of smoking has gotten rid of the potential profit that was once there. For instance, the United States grew $1.8 billion worth of tobacco last year compared to $3.5 billion in 1981 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Now, though, it looks like the profit has been leaning towards hemp.

“We used to believe in [hemp] so much,” stated Tennessee Representative Jeremy Faison, a Republican supporting the state’s bill to legalize hemp. “In the Southeast, you’re going to see it be a part of our future, just like it was a part of our past.”

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