The American Farm Bureau Federation has approved a new policy resolution that urges the repeal of the classification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance.
The effort, led by the Indiana Farm Bureau at the national group's annual meeting last week in Texas, puts one of the largest and most influential mainstream farm lobbying organizations squarely in the pro-hemp camp and on record opposing "the classification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance."
The Farm Bureau before passed a policy resolution supporting industrial hemp research in 1995.
Kentucky Farm Bureau didn't take any action at its December convention and has no formal policy on hemp, spokesman Dan Smaldone said.
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"Kentucky as no stance on it at this point," Smaldone said. "We do what the members want us to do. Since they've not given us that direction yet, that's where we are."
Indiana, however, has advocated for it.
"We support the declassification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance because of the opportunity that it provides some farmers to diversify their operations and share in a new market opportunity," Kyle P. Cline, policy adviser with the Indiana Farm Bureau, said in a news release. "At a time when small farms are innovating and diversifying to remain competitive, we should provide every opportunity to increase farm incomes and allow the next generation the ability to continue living off the land as their families have for generations.
"Industrial hemp is one such opportunity that may work for some farmers in certain regions," he said. "Furthermore, industrial hemp will allow the U.S. farmer to share in income that is currently going overseas. Right now, it is legal to import hemp but illegal to produce it. Therefore, there is no opportunity currently to share in the profit."
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Wednesday that Indiana's push shows that Kentucky needs to "get on the ball, because there's a lot of competition on this. When we started this in August 2012, with Sen. Rand Paul, there weren't very many states interested in pursuing a hemp industry. Now there are 20 states."
The House version of the federal farm bill contains an amendment to legalize university research on industrial hemp in states that have removed barriers to the crop's production, according to the group Vote Hemp, which applauded the Farm Bureau's move.
Kentucky and 31 other states have passed such legislation; Colorado began licensing farmers to grow hemp this year.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Herald-Leader last week that he has asked the U.S. Attorney General's office to review the classification.
"Farmers see hemp imported from China, Canada, and realize that they're missing out on the growing U.S. market for hemp," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. "That farmers are coming forward with formal support for policy change in favor of hemp legalization is a huge step forward, and Congress should follow their lead and pass legislation to once again allow hemp farming under federal law."
Many people in Kentucky and elsewhere have questioned whether hemp would create many jobs or be a cash crop for farmers.
Comer said that's why the American Farm Bureau's action is important.
"I think it shows the growing movement by agriculture leaders to embrace industrial hemp as a crop of the future," Comer said. "The fact that Tom Vilsack openly endorsed industrial hemp, and a week later, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the most conservation organization there is, endorses it, shows this is viable."