If you’ve been paying attention to industrial hemp in this country, you may have noticed a push for hemp in Congress coming from Kentucky. There is a reason for that – several actually. Kentucky is full of tobacco farmers. And tobacco is on its way out. Is there a crop that can replace this American staple? Yes. And that is why Kentucky is investing in hemp.
Congressmen Comer and Senator McConnell, both representatives from Kentucky, have spent the last several years giving the hemp industry a serious push in Congress. The reason being, it affects their state greatly. Furthermore, they have educated themselves on the future of hemp, and know that it is a necessary and economically sound route for this country to take.
Center for Hemp at Murray University
Murray University in southwestern Kentucky is the first college in the country to house an exclusively committed program to hemp. As a part of the Hutson School of Agriculture at Murray University, this pilot program has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2014, the school planted the first legal agricultural hemp research plot. Since then, they have developed an entire Center for research, education, innovation, and policy.
The Center for Agriculture of Hemp is held in partnership with GenCanna Global – an organization growing and developing hemp products, including CBD. As of December 2018, the company had committed to invest $40 million in a fourth Kentucky hemp facility. They will add another 80-plus employees to their roster, and another 30 farmers. Business is up. Furthermore, they have their eye on the global market.
Obviously, Kentucky is investing in hemp in a very big way. They have a university with a learning center dedicated for hemp, multiple farmers who have already made the transition from tobacco to hemp, and a global hemp company growing by leaps and bounds. Ensuring that the general public and Congress are well educated on the product is key to its success.
A recent visit
Congressman Collin Peterson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, recently attended a session on hemp given by various Murray University representatives, and hosted by Kentucky Congressman James Comer. This visit also included other regional, as well as, state agricultural and governmental leaders. The sessions consisted of several stops, including a tour of the new Fibonacci Hempwood operation and the Murray State farm. Conversations covered included hemp, dark tobacco, corn, and soybeans.
According to Dr. Tony Brannon, Dean of the Murray State Hutson School of Agriculture, “It was a great opportunity to give the chairman an update on the reinvention of agricultural hemp as a grain, fiber, and floral crop on our campus and in our region and state, and to update him on our ongoing student, faculty, and associated partner research.”
As you may be aware, tobacco demand has plummeted over the last several decades. Kentucky has long been considered tobacco country, and grew over 200,000 acres of tobacco annually for hundreds of years. As of 2018, tobacco crops plummeted to around 57,000 acres. There is a desperate need, not just in Kentucky, but throughout the country, to find a replacement crop for tobacco and other formerly productive crops that are now dying out. Many a farmer believes that hemp is the answer.
Farming has long been the “American way.” Thomas Jefferson believed every American man should have land and farm it. Of course, we are light years away from that way of life now as we have moved towards a more technology-based culture since. However, farming is still an American staple. Agriculture is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, an important part of our economy. Thus, it needs to be a stable one.
How hemp can help us
For decades, we have subsidized farmers. This isn’t because they aren’t working hard enough. It has more to do with inflation and the cost of farming than anything else. Yet, hemp is proving to be a crop that doesn’t need pesticides (cha-ching), uses less water (cha-ching), and can have several yields per year – unlike many other crops (cha-ching). See how that adds up?
Furthermore, hemp-based products are proving to be superior quality, and more cost effective to make. From fiberglass to insulation and concrete, as well as, textiles and paper products, hemp is an incredibly strong and durable plant. We used it hundreds of years ago and only stopped because it was considered cannabis then outlawed (wrongly) along with marijuana in the 1930’s.
More importantly, CBD, a cannabinoid derived from hemp has taken off drastically. Research has developed quickly regarding its health benefits. The FDA approved Epidiolex last year which is a CBD-based medication for epilepsy. The future for hemp looks bright indeed.
Kentucky in Congress
Congressman Comer, seems to have made hemp his priority. He recently pushed a bill that he had written by stating, “We’re trying to utilize every part of the plant, and I feel Kentucky has proven there is huge demand for hemp products,” Comer said. “The American Farm Bureau Federation also has endorsed the bill and the growth of industrial hemp as an agricultural industry.”
Comer said his bill has House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., as a co-sponsor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also is going to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. McConnell had input on language in the last farm bill to help commercialize hemp, particularly in the state of Kentucky.
Congressman Comer said it is possible the bill could be included in the upcoming farm bill. However, he also stated that at least some members of the House Agriculture Committee are leery of dealing with a hemp-legalization bill.
Unfortunately, many representatives have failed to educate themselves on hemp. Perhaps they have conservative constituents who demonize all cannabis without realizing that hemp and marijuana are very different plants? Fortunately, these two aren’t letting that slow them down.
It would seem that both Comer and McConnell are willing to do the legwork of educating their peers in an effort to move the agricultural industry towards hemp. They believe in it enough to have their state of Kentucky investing in hemp fully. Now that we have the support of multiple people in Congress, maybe we can get there – sooner rather than later.