Kentucky Hemp Forum: State and national leaders discuss the possibilities of this "new" crop

Posted on May 9, 2019

LOUISVILLE - The 2014 Farm Bill paved the way for hemp production on a research level in this country after a long hiatus partially due to its placement on the Controlled Substance list in 1970. The 2018 Farm Bill took away legal obstacles, allowing it to once again become an agricultural commodity.

Now the task of creating the rules and regulations that come with such production is beginning to take place, and Kentucky was the first stop federal officials made in an effort to move that process forward.

The first ever Kentucky Hemp Forum, hosted by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Commissioner Ryan Quarles was held at the Kentucky Exposition Center on April 8, with a host of national and state leaders on hand to discuss the issues connected to industrial hemp production, and to hear from many already vested in its production.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs, and Administrator Martin R. Barbre, USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) made up the federal panel on hand to lead the discussion from a national perspective, and to listen to several stakeholders, including growers, processors, educators and law enforcement, about successes and challenges they have faced during the research phase of crop production.

Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney also addressed the gathering to extend the organization’s support of the Farm Bill’s inclusion of industrial hemp production, and the efforts being made to ensure farm families have all the information they need to begin growing this historic crop.   

 “Overall, I think the mood is positive when it comes to the opportunities industrial hemp will produce for our farm families across this state,” he said. “We have already seen impressive production and economic numbers related to our research efforts up to this point. And now that the new Farm Bill takes away any legal obstacles, it will be exciting to see the progress of hemp production here, and across the country.”

Haney participated in one of the two panel discussions held during the forum, telling the government leaders and attendees, he thinks Kentucky has the opportunity to once again lead the nation in hemp production.

“The history of hemp in Kentucky dates back to the late 1700s when early settlers grew the plant for textile use. It became so widely grown that by the early 19th century, the Commonwealth was the leading hemp producer in the country,” he said. “In knowing this storied history, and with the success our farm families once had with this versatile crop, it only seems reasonable that the same could be true today.” 

McConnell praised the current efforts being conducted in Kentucky, but he also noted the work that lies ahead when it comes to producing hemp nationally.

“If you look at where we are on the legalization of industrial hemp, we are sort of in the ‘red zone.’ There are some additional steps that need to be taken and that is part of what this learning session is about,” he said. “We have some work to do with the Food and Drug Administration; (and) the USDA is working on making sure crop insurance is available at the earliest possible time. So, this may require some additional legislation and I’m prepared to do my job to get us all the way into the end zone.”    

Barbre also noted the work that has been done by this state up to this point is commendable.

“If I had 49 other states and a few territories at the place Kentucky is right now, this project, from RMA’s perspective, would be a whole lot further along,” he said.

In addressing the forum attendees, Barbre spoke of the challenges ahead to set regulations that will move hemp, as a production crop forward, including that of crop insurance.

“We’re working as hard as we can, as quick as we can to get this product out, but yet making sure it’s viable for producers,” he said.

Ibach said Kentucky has played an important role in getting rules and regulations in place to oversee the production of the crop.

“We knew all along that Kentucky was a leader in being able to have a set of rules and regulations in place that could be advisatory to us at USDA as we look forward to moving ahead with the national program,” he said. “There’s no doubt that Leader McConnell and Commissioner Quarles’ leadership has put Kentucky in a great position.”    

Quarles said the forum represented the first time the USDA was present outside of Washington to learn more about the hemp industry. 

“When I became Commissioner, I made a promise that Kentucky would become the epicenter for industrial hemp production and processing,” he said. “That promise is something we have delivered on and we are building a critical mass of growers, processors and researchers that will ensure hemp’s future here in the Commonwealth.”