State plans five pilot projects to grow industrial hemp

jpatton1@herald-leader.comFebruary 17, 2014 

Industrial hemp in Manitoba, Canada. Kentucky wants to be at the forefront of hemp production once the OK is given for the crop's return.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture plans five pilot projects to grow industrial hemp throughout the state.

The projects were announced Monday by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer during a news conference in Knott County that focused on efforts to enhance farming in Appalachia.

University of Kentucky agriculture professor Will Snell, who attended the announcement, said the state would need to get research and marketing efforts in place quickly because a number of other states would try to get into the hemp market.

One pilot project in Eastern Kentucky will work with the department's Homegrown by Heroes veteran-farmers, coordinating with Kentucky State University, to cultivate Kentucky heirloom hemp seed.

Another will work European seed in Western Kentucky, under the auspices of Murray State University, to study hemp for fiber.

A third, probably affiliated with the University of Louisville, might grow hemp on an urban "brownfield" to study how well the hemp removes environmental toxins.

A fourth project, in Central Kentucky, will study basic agricultural production questions, including proper planting, harvesting and yield. This project will be overseen by the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University, which also will conduct research on the renewable-energy potential of the crop.

The fifth pilot project, also in Eastern Kentucky and under the control of UK, would focus on growing cannabinoids for medical research, according to an agricultural economic development plan released during the news conference.

The hemp projects are made possible by recent passage of the federal farm bill that contained language permitting state departments of agriculture and universities to grow industrial hemp for research.

The language was inserted by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, who joined Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, in announcing the Appalachian initiatives.

The projects are scheduled to begin March 31.

On Friday, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and Comer announced they would work together to ensure that the hemp seeds for the pilot projects were imported properly.

Conway and Comer also will pursue a "blanket waiver" for Kentucky to grow industrial hemp commercially.

Farmers interested in participating may contact the Kentucky Agriculture Department at (502) 564-4983 for more information on applying to affiliate with the pilot projects.

Herald-Leader staff writer Bill Estep contributed to this report. Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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