Farmers are planting less tobacco in Kentucky after growing health concerns decreased demand. Alternatively, they’re increasingly turning to hemp and have more than doubled the cannabis variety types in 2016. The states has become the Number 2 producer in the United States, right behind Colorado.

Giles Shell, who cultivates with his dad and brother 45 minutes south of Lexington on a 200 acre farm said, “The profit is promising,” The family plans to dedicate 80 acres to hemp next year, land that for four generations was used to produce tobacco. “We’ve been willing as a family farm to be able to take this adventure.”

There were strict controls on hemp among anti-drug sentiment over the last few decades, making it illegal to grow without a government permit as the plant got tied in with cannabis. The United States farm bill authorized agriculture departments to create industrial hemp research pilot programs in 2014. This reopened production opportunities. According to the state’s agriculture department, only 33 acres were planted in Kentucky that year. According to the state’s agriculture department, plants rose to 922 acres in 2015 and skyrocketed to over 2,300 acres in 2016.

According to the department, the state’s first hemp crop was grown in 1775, and almost all of the country’s production was grown in the Bluegrass region following the Civil War. The crop was included with federal legislation that outlawed marijuana harvesting in 1938, and output decreased to almost nothing following the Second World War.

Doris Hamilton, the industrial hemp program manager for Kentucky’s agriculture department, said cultivators are seeking alternatives as prices for other commodities remain grim and the tobacco market continues to decline.

Steenstra stated that most of the hemp products sold in the United States are being imported from other countries. Farmers now have an opportunity to get a foot in the market as the demand rises.

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