By Laura Marion
In early May, the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture announced that 121 industrial hemp projects will be participating in this second year of the state’s five-year pilot program. Licensed growers and processors, as well as seven universities, will cultivate more than 1,700 acres — up from just 33 acres last year.
“Hemp equals jobs and economic development,” the commissioner said in a press release.
Plans to cultivate this profitable crop — used for natural body care, clothing, construction materials, biofuels, food and more — are also in the works for several additional states in Appalachia.
At press time, the 53 farmers approved to participate in Tennessee’s new pilot program are awaiting hemp seed shipments, which need to be planted by June. West Virginia, which legalized production for research purposes more than a year ago, may soon approve commercial growers too. Close behind is Virginia, with an industrial hemp research farming bill that will go into effect this July. The industry is not legal in North Carolina, but a company is building a plant to process kenaf, a fibrous cousin to hemp.
A variety of Cannabis, hemp was outlawed in 1970 because lawmakers feared a correlation between hemp and marijuana since hemp contains some THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient. However, the amount of THC in hemp is minimal.
Prior to February 2014, when the farm bill removed long-standing federal restrictions on hemp cultivation, hemp fiber and oil were mainly imported from China, Canada and Europe. Before hemp production was criminalized, it was widely cultivated in the United States. Even the Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made from hemp.