Kentucky’s great hemp hope

In industrial hemp, the state of Rand Paul and Wendell Berry sees a solution to its post-agrarian ills

November 12, 2014 5:00AM ET

by Michael Ames @mirkel

Mike Lewis hemp

Mike Lewis, a farmer who employs veterans on his farm, was recruited by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to join the state’s hemp crusade.

MOUNT VERNON, Ky. — Mike Lewis doesn’t want to talk about marijuana. He is an organic farmer, the son of a retired federal agent, and he follows the law. 

"If you’re gonna talk about drugs, you’re going to have to leave my property," he said to the group of entrepreneurs and activists who had traveled to central Kentucky to see his farm, one of the few legal, private hemp operations in the country. The threat sounded serious, and with it, Lewis had everyone’s attention. "We’re here today to talk about building an industry."

The most progressive cannabis program in the United States won’t get anyone stoned. But while officials in Colorado and Washington state await the results (and reap millions in taxes) of their drug-legalization experiments, conservative Kentucky has launched an ambitious and industrious project devoted to the ancient, controversial plants. Marijuana remains illegal here, but with industrial hemp, a non-psychoactive cannabis varietal with dozens of commercial uses, the state sees a different kind of salvation, an old-fashioned agrarian answer to a variety of 21st-century American ills.

Seven university-affiliated grow sites in the state, spread from the Mississippi valley in the west to the Appalachian east, are researching hemp’s potentials. Eastern Kentucky University is studying bio-fuels. Manufacturers are talking up hemp-based car parts and hempcrete, a biodegradable construction material. Bio-chemical engineers in Louisville will test the plant’s capacity to remediate the city’s toxic dumps. In struggling Appalachia, where thousands of families were wiped out when the federal government ended its tobacco subsidies, small farmers are wondering whether hemp can fill an economic vacuum. Wherever Kentucky has a problem, it seems industrial hemp has an answer.

The initiative was launched by the state’s agriculture commissioner, Republican James Comer, who ran for the office (an influential position in a predominately rural state), largely on his hemp visions.

"We thought he was crazy," recalled Holly Harris, who served as general counsel for the state GOP during Comer’s 2011 campaign. "The party chatter was, ‘This guy is crazy.’" But after Comer won that race — the only Kentucky Republican elected to statewide office that year — Harris was hired as his chief of staff and witnessed what she described as the most wild and memorable political experience of her career.

The conventional wisdom was that hemp was a political nonstarter, a fringe concern better fit for liberal states like Colorado or Washington, where marijuana prohibition was already being phased out. The conservative-led coalition that gathered around Comer’s agenda destroyed those assumptions. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was instrumental, recruiting a delegation to testify in support of the state’s legalization measure; the group included Louisville Democrat John Yarmuth, libertarian conservative Thomas Massie and former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey. When Paul spoke at the hearing on Senate Bill 50, he wore his favorite button-down hemp shirt. In Washington, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also of Kentucky, amended the 2014 farm bill to permit the plan under federal law. As the legal and political hurdles fell, Comer revived the long-moribund state Industrial Hemp Commission, a committee of stakeholders and experts responsible for getting the industry off the ground. Funding arrived from RandPAC (Paul’s political action committee) on the right, and from a standard hippie culture staple, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. The two organizations provide the entirety of the commission’s budget.

Kentucky is not entirely alone in the legalization movement. Lawmakers in many rural states are frustrated by the fact that, while it’s perfectly legal to sell hemp products made in other countries, federal law denies independent farmers the right to grown their own. In recent years, more than a dozen states have passed legislation that, to varying degrees, allows colleges, universities, and state agriculture agencies to research, grow and market the plant. Comer, however, took the additional step of licensing farmers like Lewis as state contractors, something no other state has done. In Colorado, farmers are allowed to grow the crop, but “it’s more like don’t ask don’t tell,” said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, the industries chief lobbying group. Kentucky, he said, “pushed the envelope and are letting farmers do commercial activity as research.”

It’s been less than five months since Lewis planted his first seeds, and he said that he is currently in talks with more than a dozen manufacturing companies interested in processing hemp for a dizzying range of commercial and industrial applications, including health supplements, building insulation and bedding for Kentucky thoroughbreds. He said that a plastics company, which did not want to be named, is interested in processing hemp fibers into durable car paneling, a practice that European automakers have been using for years.

"We saw there is real opportunity," Lewis said. "We want to work with these people to create products, to drive dollars into the local economy." At this point, with so much energy and promise, Lewis "suffers from the oppression of opportunity." His biggest problem, he said, "is managing expectations."

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USDA Gives GMO Potato Exclusive Approval

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The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reportedly deregulated a new genetically modified potato, adding the product to an exclusive list of now nine lab-made GMO food crops that can be sold in the United States.

According to the J.R. Simplot Company, "this approval comes after a decade of scientific development, safety assessments and extensive field tests."

The potatoes also apparently grow just like your standard domestic potato crop. What makes the potatoes different, however, is that they bruise less and have lower levels of asparagine – a natural amino acid that can be turned into a suspected human carcinogen when exposed to flash frying.

Reuters reports that Simplot first applied for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approval back in 2013, after a number of field trials conducted from 2009 through 2011.

GMOs are not uncommon in the United States. Technically, mostly everything you eat (and yes, that includes most of the rustic products you buy at your local farmer’s market) are genetically modified organisms. Experts have been arguing that we have been selecting for the genetic expression of traits in our food crops for centuries, even if we have just recently moved away from breeding kits to doing things exclusively in a lab.

Most GMOs are also products of genetic editing, in which only naturally possible traits are selected for. Genetic insertion, on the other hand, is a new practice where traits that a plant could not normally boast are added into the mix. This allows researchers to make crops (like corn and soybeans) that can tolerate herbicides or grow in unfavorable conditions. However, it also can have unforeseen consequences, which is why many people are strongly opposed to GMOs in the United States.

Simplot’s so-called "Innate potato" apparently is not of the worrisome second variety.

"The name does a good job of describing the process," David Douches, Director of the Potato Breeding and Genetics Program at Michigan State University, told BestFoodFacts. "The technology used to produce it involves isolating genetic elements from the plant’s existing gene structure, and after some rearranging, introducing them back into the potato without incorporating genes from other species. The product is from within… adding something new, but it was already in the potato in the first place."

Tags GMOs, crops, food, genetically engineered foods

Read more: http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/10190/20141110/usda-gives-gmo-potato-exclusive-approval.htm#ixzz3Ipn3z07e

Jim Barton is finally harvesting a crop of hemp,

By Alan Bjerga Nov 9, 2014

Jim Barton is finally harvesting a crop of hemp, the cannabis variety used in colonial times to make rope, sailcloth and other goods.

But the 80-year-old Kentucky farmer isn’t celebrating the successful drive to loosen marijuana laws that also moved Congress to allow pilot plots of his non-intoxicating version of the plant.

“Marijuana has always been the problem with hemp,” said Barton, taking a break from a green Deere & Co. (DE) combine on a farm outside Lexington. “Marijuana is a danger, hemp is not.”

Confusion over the two plants has kept hemp-growing illegal in the U.S. for generations. As attitudes toward marijuana ease — voters in Washington, D.C., Alaska and Oregon on Nov. 4 became the latest to legalize it for recreational use — hemp has gained support for legal cultivation on an experimental basis. Success could help Kentucky farmers struggling with falling tobacco output and lower revenue from corn and soybeans.

While the size of a potential market is difficult to estimate, hemp’s uses are staggering: 25,000 possible products in agriculture and food, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, paper, construction materials, and personal care, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some farmers are also planning to market a strain for medicinal purposes and sell it across state lines.

While pot advocates remain some of hemp’s most vocal proponents, “there are stereotypes people want to walk away from,” said Anndrea Hermann, president of the Hemp Industries Association, which has no position on marijuana legalization.

‘Mainstream Scale’

“We have a lot of steps to take before we are really launched onto a mainstream scale,” she said.

Blurred lines between hemp and marijuana literally stunted Barton’s first crop, as a shipment of seeds was delayed by drug-enforcement officials and this year’s planting got in later than desired, creating plants about half as tall as hoped.

Hemp was a major crop in the U.S. from colonial times until the mid-1800s, when other crops became more lucrative. Planting revived in World War II, peaking in 1943 after the Japanese takeover of the Philippines deprived the U.S. of its main fiber for ropes and parachutes. Farmers, including Barton’s family, grew it at the urging of the government to help win the war.

The market collapsed afterward, as competitors regained market share and new types of fibers were developed. Legal restrictions also expanded with concern over marijuana use. Plantings disappeared altogether by the late 1950s.

Pilot Plantings

Now, recreational use of pot is legal in Colorado and Washington State and at least 30 states have some form of decriminalized or medical pot, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A farm bill passed this year permits pilot projects in 14 states, including Kentucky, for hemp.

Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who opposes legalization of marijuana, touted his support for hemp in his successful re-election campaign. With the Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, he’s in line to become majority leader.

Hemp is grown in more than 30 nations, led by China. Even though it couldn’t be grown in the U.S., sales of hemp products, such as oilseeds and fiber, reached $581 million last year, up 24 percent from a year earlier, said the Hemp Industries Association, a trade group.

‘An Ingredient’

“I see hemp’s future as one where it’s not a hemp protein bar, it will just be a protein bar,” said Hermann, the group’s president. “The product won’t be ‘hemp,’ it will be a naturally gluten-free, lactose-free, high-amino-acid oil. Hemp happens to be an ingredient.”

Traveling among test plots planted in combination with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Joe Hickey is seeing two decades of advocacy bear fruit. Hickey was with actor and marijuana activist Woody Harrelson in 1996, when the star of “Natural Born Killers” and “Cheers” was arrested for planting four hemp seeds in a field about 50 miles southeast of Lexington.

“I was the one who called the cops on him,” Hickey chuckles, remembering the preplanned role he played in a milestone event publicizing the pro-hemp cause.

The crop he fought for is now legal — and has buyers. Hemp Oil Kentucky, based in Lexington, last week announced that Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap and Nutiva, an organic-foods company, agreed to buy their products. And Hickey’s no longer calling the cops on Woody. The two are now business partners at Baswood Corp., which develops wastewater-treatment technology.

Hemp Pollen

Hickey shakes the pollen off a hemp plant in a secluded field, sending a white cloud of dust into the air.

The pollen is a key reason why authorities shouldn’t fear his hemp fields, Hickey said. Marijuana relies on unfertilized female plants, which have the highest levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that gives that plant its euphoric effect. Hemp, which has negligible amounts of THC, uses male plants that can fertilize marijuana via pollen drift, wrecking their THC content in the process.

“Give it three generations, and all the THC would be gone,” he said. “You want to destroy outdoor marijuana fields, grow hemp everywhere.”

Tom Hutchens, a retired tobacco breeder now trying to adapt foreign hemp varieties to U.S. growing conditions, calls himself a realist.

Strict Separation

Acceptance of hemp fostered by changes to marijuana laws is a double-edged sword, he said. Attitudes toward the drug could reverse, setting back hemp. And opponents are watching for mistakes — anything that confirms to them that if one is illegal, the other should be, too.

The only way to instill confidence will be tight regulation of hemp, and strict separation from marijuana, Hutchens said.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. Legal hemp complicates marijuana eradication by making it more difficult to identify the illegal crop, said Jeremy Slinker, commander of the Kentucky State Police Cannabis Suppression Branch.

This year, the agency relied on the state’s Agriculture Department to keep track of pilot-project hemp plots. With GPS coordinates for each field, distinguishing hemp from marijuana was manageable as he and other officers flew helicopters overhead.

Yet GPS can be off by a few hundred feet. In one case, suspected marijuana was growing near a legal hemp field — by the time officers were able to say with certainty which was which, the suspicious crop had been harvested.

Crop Confu
sion

Meanwhile, neighbors of hemp-growers would call police to report marijuana cultivation, leading to investigations that a year ago would have been simpler. “We’d find it, we’d eradicate it, and we’d arrest someone,” Slinker said.

Such problems would multiply as hemp production expands, he said.

“We are all completely new to this,” he said. “Criminals always find new tactics, and we don’t have the time or resources to become hemp inspectors.”

Even legal marijuana, should that become prevalent in the future, would likely be regulated differently from hemp, making law-enforcement headaches inevitable.

“We’re kind of learning along with the test-growers,” he said. “In one year, two years, we’ll have better answers.”

Hemp Crusader

Choosing friends carefully will be crucial to industry growth, said Ken Anderson, chief executive officer of Original Green Distribution, a Minneapolis provider of hemp-based materials such as drywall, marketed as a sustainable, natural fiber. When Minnesota enacted a medical marijuana law this year, the state asked Anderson for advice on operating its state dispensaries.

Anderson refused.

Crusading for hemp is his life’s passion. “My business has nothing to do with marijuana,” he said. “The two need to be considered separately,” which he said is a challenge given what he calls a “fight-the-man” constituency of drug-legalizers among hemp’s proponents.

“At a certain point, you have to work with the man,” he said. “That’s when you’ll start to see the scale this industry can achieve.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Bjerga in Washington at abjerga@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net Steve Geimann

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Hemp entrepreneurs can’t wait to put U.S.-grown crop to use

Published: Nov 7, 2014, 6:14 pm Comments (1)

By Elana Ashanti Jefferson, The Cannabist Staff

Colorado hemp farmers and entrepreneurs spent this past growing season experimenting with cultivars to find the ideal plant for our state’s high and dry growing conditions.

But hemp is making inroads even in states where marijuana legalization has yet to gain momentum.

Hemp entrepreneurs eager to put U.S.-grown crop to use (interview)

Above:  Some of the products offered in the Hemp & Honey Plus line created by Scott Sondles and Michael Bumgarner. (Provided by HempStrong Brands)

Consider HempStrong Brands, a grassroots business initiative started in Kentucky and Ohio by two entrepreneurial cousins with little connection to the legalization debate. Their long-term goal, which began with the pampering skincare line Hemp & Honey Plus, is to create local, sustainable hemp business opportunities.

Kentucky was once the country’s leading hemp producing state, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Now Kentucky is one of 10 states named in the 2014 Farm Bill, which relaxes federal drug laws to make way for renewed hemp cultivation.

Ohio also was one of the country’s busier hemp-growing states before the crop became illegal as part of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.


Kentucky hemp harvest: Harbinger of things to come?


Hemp & Honey Plus currently sources its hemp seed oil from Canada, which reported nearly 39,000 acres of industrial hemp in 2011 and is estimated to export more than $10 million of hemp annually.

Here, HempStrong owners Scott Sondles, 27, and Michael Bumgarner, 30, talk about their push to shift hemp sourcing to American farmers. Sondles is also the author of “Hemponomics: Unleashing the Power of Sustainable Growth” (Amazon Digital Services).

• The Cannabist: How did two all-American guys such as yourselves develop an interest in hemp?

Scott Sondles: In college (at the University of Kentucky in Lexington), I had a custom clothing company. We sold T-shirts to bars. A customer came to me and asked about hemp clothing. Like most people, I didn’t know (about) hemp, but once I found out about the textiles and the seeds and oil and all of the benefits of hemp, I was hooked.

Michael Bumgarner: There are a lot of small farmers here in Ohio who would love to find alternative commodities to grow that are easy and require less input than corn. With hemp, that became an objective of ours. We want to lead the way in the Midwest, educating people and encouraging common-sense legislation to cultivate industrial hemp. We feel like there’s an opportunity with hemp to create jobs and improve the economy. If Ohio legalizes industrial hemp, we could put some small farmers back to work while improving the environment and offering healthy lifestyle products to the consumer.


All things Hemp: Reviews for products utilizing versatile hemp — foods, clothing, crafts, health & beauty, pet gear


• The Cannabist: Particularly with the snowballing national push toward some form of cannabis legalization, there may be an abundance of entrepreneurs pushing into hemp. What sets HempStrong Brands apart from other like-minded entrepreneurial efforts?

SS: The reason we started HempStrong Brands was to work with all these new hemp entrepreneurs. We don’t think of it as a negative that more people are getting into this marketplace. It’s a benefit.

MB: We are really trying to work this issue at the local level. For instance, I’m an Ohio Farm Bureau member, so I’m trying to get more involved with farmers. … So many hemp business leaders are West Coast-based. We are uniquely situated in the Midwest, at the heart of American farming.


Hemp farming: Coverage of the re-emergence of industrial hemp in the United States as federal laws loosen


• The Cannabist: What is your personal outlook for hemp in America in the years to come?

SS: We believe that it’s hemp seed that’s really going to push the hemp industry forward in the short term. A hemp fiber industry will come along after that.

• The Cannabist: Hemp & Honey Plus was the first strategic partnership for HempStrong Brands. What’s next?

MB: We’ll launch our next HempStrong Brand during the first quarter of 2015. It complements our skincare line. We’re also launching a nonprofit organization that complements all of our brands. We will be donating a portion of our revenue to fight hunger and encourage healthy eating.

• The Cannabist: Canada is currently the source for the hemp seed oil that goes into Hemp & Honey Plus products. When do you expect to start working with an American hemp producer?

MB: We’re coming to Denver for the Indo Expo (cannabis-industry business convention Nov. 15-16). We have meetings already in place (with American hemp producers). … As soon as the hemp supply meets our demand, we definitely want to source our materials from American companies.

Topics: canada, hemp, hemp & honey plus, hemp farming, Hemp in Colorado, hemp seed oil, hempstrong brands, indo expo, kentucky, Michael Bumgarner, Scott Sondles

CONTINUE READING AT “THE CANNABIST”…

An industrial hemp crop growing operation hidden in Kentucky could save lives.

Behind The Scenes Of Country’s Largest Hemp Growing Operation

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An industrial hemp crop growing operation hidden in Kentucky could save lives.

The crops are being grown on a former flower farm tucked away on the outskirts of Jackson County and is now the largest hemp growing operation in the country. The plants are hidden from the public, but the operation allowed LEX 18 to document the cultivation of the controversial crop.

The hemp plants are producing cannabidiol oil, also known as CBD, which may be able to help children with seizures. It’ll be the first time hemp is available in Kentucky. However, the sheriff says some families in need have already moved to Colorado, where it’s already available.

"We have families that are out there, living in a strange environment, sleeping on the floor, having to relocate just to have the medicine that they could have right here," says Sheriff Denny Peyman.

But moving isn’t an option for the family of 17-month-old Jolie who suffers hundreds of seizures a week.

"We got diagnosed with a really rare seizure disorder called infantile spasms," says Jennifer Harrell, Jolie’s mother.

Jolie’s mother is part of a group of parents trying to get their hands on the oil and away from a cocktail of prescription pills.

"One of them (the prescription pills) can cause Steven Johnson syndrome. So it can make your skin fall off. And the one she’s currently on, can cause permanent blindness. So those are the decisions we have to make. Its kinda like you’re playing Russian roulette with your kid’s brain," says Harrell.

The plants are allowed to be grown through an expanding pilot program under the farm bill. A few weeks ago, this operation opened right here in the bluegrass again under secrecy, for fear of thieves.

Not everyone is a supporter though because of hemp’s similarity to marijuana. The Department of Agriculture reiterates that this won’t get anyone high and the program is closely watched.

More testing will need to be done before anything can be legally prescribed, it’s unclear when parents in Kentucky will have access to CBD oil. Earlier this year, Governor Beshear signed a bill into law allowing doctors at UK and U of L to prescribe CBD oil from hemp to certain patients.

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With Farm Bill in Rearview, Kentucky Strives to Revive Hemp Industry

August 1, 2014 By Josh Long 1 Comment

Posted in News, Cannabis, Regulatory Issues, Government, American Herbal Products Association (AHPA)

Editor’s Note:This story is the fifth part in a series of articles and video documentaries that surveys the state of the legal marijuana and hemp industries.To read the previous article on hemp and marijuana executives tied to crimes, go here.

MURRAY STATE UNIVERSITY, Kentucky—In 1994, Chris Boucher planted industrial hemp at the USDA Research Center in Imperial Valley, California. As the owner of a company that sold hemp T-shirts, wallets, backpacks and hemp seed oil, Boucher figured it would be just a few years before growing hemp in the United States was legal.

Earlier this month, Boucher was beaming while exploring a hemp field at Murray State University. 

“We’ve waited almost 20 years to this day for hemp to be legal in the United States," he declared here on a muggy-free day in July.

The trek to legalize marijuana’s cousin hemp is far from over. Earlier this year, Congress authorized the cultivation and growth of industrial hemp—but only for research purposes.

Industrial hemp hails from the same plant species (Cannabis Sativa L.) as marijuana, and federal law still classifies hemp as a Schedule I controlled substance along with such hardcore drugs as heroin, LSD and peyote. That’s in spite of the fact that hemp contains little of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes a smoker high: THC. Under this year’s Farm Bill, a plant meets the definition of “industrial hemp" if it contains no more than 0.3 percent of THC, otherwise known as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol.

Chris Boucher of CannaVest Corp. inspects a hemp field at Murray State University. CannaVest donated the seeds for the hemp research project.

Chris Boucher of CannaVest Corp. inspects a hemp field at Murray State University. CannaVest donated the seeds for the hemp research project.

“I always like to say there’s more opiates in a poppy seed than there is THC in a hemp seed," said Boucher, who manages US Hemp Oil, a division of CannaVest Corp., a developer and marketer of hemp-based consumer products with a focus on the compound cannabidiol (CBD). “Looking at it from that standpoint, I think logic will dictate the outcome here on the legality of industrial hemp."

Kentucky Leads Hemp Pilot Projects

Of the world’s industrialized countries, the United States is the only one that prohibits production of industrial hemp, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. An estimated 55,700 metric tons of industrial hemp are produced annually around the world, with China, Russia and South Korea supplying 70 percent of a crop that is used in such products as paper, foods and nutritional supplements, the state agency said.

Kentucky, whose largest industry is agriculture, is striving to capitalize on hemp production should Congress eventually authorize it for commercial production. Section 7606 of the Farm Bill is the first step in that journey. President Obama signed the bill into law on Feb. 7, 2014, authorizing institutions of higher education or state agriculture departments to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp in states that permit the growth or cultivation of the crop.

Hemp has not been grown in the United States since 1957, according to Vote Hemp, a grassroots hemp advocacy organization.

"With the U.S. hemp industry estimated at over $500 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal law to allow colleges and universities to grow hemp for research means that we will finally begin to regain the knowledge that unfortunately has been lost over the past 50 years," Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra said in a statement following passage of the Farm Bill. "This is the first time in American history that industrial hemp has been legally defined by our federal government as distinct from drug varieties of cannabis."

Adam Watson, industry hemp program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said his agency is leading the hemp pilot projects that the Farm Bill authorized.

“To the best of my knowledge, we have the most aggressive pilot program out there," he said.

Although a number of states have passed hemp laws, Boucher is aware of only one other state that is conducting research on hemp cultivation: Colorado, which happens to be only one of two states that has legalized marijuana for recreational use. In fact, Amendment 64—the 2012 ballot initiative that legalized recreational pot—also directed Colorado lawmakers to enact legislation governing the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp.

Following passage of an industrial hemp law last year by the Colorado General Assembly, roughly 200 private growers have registered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture for research and commercial purposes, said Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner of the agency. Of the 1,555 acres registered with the state agriculture department, 1,312 acres are for commercial purposes while 243 acres are for R&D, he said.

“I think once other states start to see … the success of this test crop, then we’ll see other states start to figure out how to get their rules lined up so they can do this," said Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), commenting on the hemp plants at Murray State University. 

AHPA, CannaVest Executives Visit Hemp Field

McGuffin and a colleague from AHPA, Chief Information Analyst Merle Zimmermann, recently visited the hemp field there and met with CannaVest executives and university officials.

In Kentucky, under the oversight of the state agriculture department, a number of educational institutions are studying myriad aspects of industrial hemp from its sensitivity to herbicides (University of Kentucky) to how well it grows if the soil isn’t tilled (Murray State University). 

Murray State University has grown what is perhaps the nation’s first legal industrial hemp in generations. The plants are located on a 250-acre farm that the university’s agriculture school manages to study various crops such as corn, tobacco and soybeans.

“This hemp was planted May the 12th, the first in the State of Kentucky and we believe in the nation," said Tony Brannon, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture, which enrolled nearly 900 students last fall and ranks among the largest non-land grant agriculture colleges in the nation. 

By mid-summer, some plants had soared to be eight-feet tall.

Kentucky is a logical place to study hemp. Some locals have parents and grandparents who grew the crop. During World War II, Kentucky was a leader in hemp production, Brannon said.

“Our farmers are very good at adapting to whatever crop is there," he said. “It’s been said that you give us a market and Kentucky farmers will be overproducing it in a couple of years … If [industrial hemp is] a legal crop and it’s of economic value to our farmers and to our area, we definitely want to play whatever role we can."

Boucher and other CannaVest executives recently flew into Nashville, Tennessee from their offices in San Diego and drove the roughly two hours northwest to see the hemp field and chat with university officials about various aspects of the project, including future testing of the hemp and equipment needed to harvest the crop.

In the meetings, university staff expressed the importance of strictly following legal protocols, especially after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized hemp seeds that were bound for the state agriculture department. The seeds were later released and distributed to a number of universities after the state agriculture department filed a lawsuit against the DEA.

At Murray State University, where harvesting is likely to occur in October, CannaVest donated more than 100 pounds of hemp seeds, which are derived from France and are known as Futura 75. Those seeds were never seized by DEA. CannaVest also donated a bag of seeds to The Growing Warriors Project, a program that helps veterans grow produce.

Boucher, CannaVest’s vice president of product development, said professional hemp seed breeders designed the seeds to grow predominantly hemp fiber and seed.

“A farmer can sell his seeds and sell his fiber on the market and make a good profit," he said.

Industrial Hemp: No ‘Get-Rich-Quick Scheme’

It could be years, though, before the United States commercializes industrial hemp, and the opportunities are difficult to fully ascertain for obvious reasons: there is no domestic market yet and hemp is still classified as a controlled substance that cannot be cultivated outside the limited scope of the Farm Bill. 

“Ultimately, it’s going to take time to determine what the ultimate marketable crop or products are going to be and it’s going to be economically driven," Watson said.

He said three to five years of data is required in order to be indicative of how a crop performs under various conditions such as dry and wet seasons and an average year.

“Producers need to have a crop reliably come off the field," Watson said. “They’ve got bills every season they’ve got to pay."

Brannon also is realistic about the opportunities for farmers.

“This is certainly no get-rich-quick scheme," he said. “We don’t know what the true economic value is going to be. But that’s where you start. That’s why we start with higher education to determine all the different variables."

CannaVest’s Boucher is stoked over the possibilities of U.S. hemp cultivation. In addition to sponsoring projects like the one at Murray State University, he described CannaVest’s longer-term plans to build mills in order to convert parts of the hemp plant into essential fatty acids and protein powder.

His vision wouldn’t be plausible had Congress not authorized hemp cultivation and research in the Farm Bill. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky, introduced the measure in the Farm Bill conference report.

“We know this field is 100 percent legal," Boucher said, “and this field here is a historical field that … is going to kickstart the American hemp industry once and for all."

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Canadian company eyes Ky. for possible hemp plant

By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press

 

 

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Canadian hemp processor looking to expand operations south of the border sees Kentucky as fertile territory for production and processing, but its top executive said Wednesday that questions about the crop’s legality have to be resolved first.

Hemp Oil Canada Inc. President and CEO Shaun Crew said the Bluegrass state is in the running for a possible plant in the U.S. to process hemp seeds. The company would look to contract with area farmers to supply seeds to the plant, he said.

The company, based in a town south of Winnipeg, is looking at other states including North Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado and California for the potential expansion, he said.

Crew, who visited Kentucky recently to meet with officials, said the state’s central location and heritage of hemp production would be advantages.

"This underscores what’s out there potentially," said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff to state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

The crop flourished in Kentucky until it was banned decades ago when the federal government classified it as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Before the company expands production into the U.S., there needs to be certainty that the plant is legal, Crew said.

"The whole situation on the political end, until that’s resolved it’s difficult to make any commitments at this stage of the game," he said in a phone interview.

"We need to have the legal framework in place for not only ourselves but so the growers have some confidence that if they put in a crop, they’re not going to have the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) swoop in and cut it down and burn it."

Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill this year to allow industrial hemp to be reintroduced, but only if the federal government lifts its ban.

The state’s attorney general, Jack Conway, recently warned that if farmers plant industrial hemp in Kentucky next spring, they would be violating federal law and could be criminally prosecuted. Conway indicated he issued the advisory to state leaders, largely to protect farmers who might mistakenly believe it’s OK to grow the plant.

Comer, a leading industrial hemp supporter, argues that Kentucky law allows the crop and that the federal government doesn’t plan to prosecute to enforce its law. Comer says hemp could give an economist boost for Kentucky. The plant’s fiber and seeds can be turned into products ranging from paper to biofuels.

"Why in the world everybody wouldn’t want to jump on board for this is beyond Commissioner Comer," VonLuehrte said Wednesday.

Hemp supporters say their efforts to reintroduce the crop were strengthened by the federal government’s response to Washington and Colorado, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana last fall. The U.S. Department of Justice recently said it would not interfere as long as the states create tight rules.

Hemp Oil Canada’s products include hemp seed oil, toasted hemp seeds and hemp powders and flours. Its top markets are in Canada and the U.S., Crew said.

A new processing plant would likely start with about a half-dozen employees with the goal of expanding, Crew said. The plan would be to contract with area farmers to supply hemp seeds, he said. The company’s contract farmers in Canada typically net about $300 to $500 per acre, after production costs, he said.

Comer doesn’t expect large-scale grain farmers to shift to industrial hemp, but the crop holds potential for farmers with smaller operations, VonLuehrte said.

Crew said he sees tremendous growth potential for hemp products in the U.S. if the legal issues about the plant are resolved.

"U.S. legalization of growing industrial hemp brings so much more legitimacy to the market," he said. "I think the opportunities would flourish after that."

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The Latest Hemp news in Kentucky…

Kentucky state senator to bring hemp bill up for vote

  • By The Associated Press
  • Posted January 28, 2013 at 3:13 p.m.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee sounded upbeat Monday about prospects for his bill that would regulate industrial hemp production in Kentucky if the federal government lifts its decades-long ban on the crop that once was a Bluegrass state staple.

Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville said Monday he intends to bring the hemp bill up for a vote in his committee, which is expected to review the legislation at a Feb. 11 hearing. Hemp proponent U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is scheduled to appear at the hearing and put his political weight behind the measure.

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Don’t call it a ‘Weed;’ Momentum for hemp in Ky

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on January 28, 2013 at 8:07 AM

Updated yesterday at 10:38 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) — Reinvigorated after a ten year dormancy, Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission meets Monday morning with an apparent new momentum.
The effort recently gained the endorsement of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and bills that would legalize the crop are expected to be debated when the General Assembly’s "short session" resumes in February. 
Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), a sponsor of one of the bills (SB50) and a statutory member of the commission, is scheduled to attend.

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Kentucky Narcotic Officer’s Association: No to Legalizing Hemp

By Kevin Willis

The recent talk in Frankfort about legalizing industrial hemp hasn’t convinced the head of the Kentucky Narcotic Officer’s Association. Tommy Loving, who also leads the Warren County Drug Task, says he fears marijuana growers will plant their crops next to hemp, making it difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between the two.

Some agriculture experts say planting the two crops together would destroy the potency of the marijuana over time, but Loving told WKU Public Radio that wouldn’t deter those looking to hide from law enforcement.

"If you plant marijuana with hemp surrounding it, for instance, in one growing season, you’re not going to diminish that much of the THC content in the marijuana. So your marijuana crop is still going to be a sellable commodity,” said Loving.

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KSP: Hemp backers ‘naive’ after endorsing Senate bill

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on January 28, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Updated today at 8:20 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) — With momentum building for an effort to license hemp farming in Kentucky, law enforcement leaders lashed out on Monday, saying hemp’s supporters are looking at the issue "through rose-colored glasses."
The pushback came as Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission met at the Agriculture Commissioner’s offices and voted to endorse Senate hemp legislation. 
All three representatives of law enforcement on the commission were absent, including Operation UNITE’s Dan Smoot who joined in the news release from the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association in opposition to Senate Bill 50 and House Bill 33.

CONTINUE READING…

Ky. hemp supporters gain big endorsement

Published: January 20, 2013

By BRUCE SCHREINER — Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Industrial hemp’s repositioning toward mainstream status gained ground with a timely endorsement from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. But the plant’s proponents have more work to do in cultivating support to legalize a crop that once was a Bluegrass state staple.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-h8gfyIbtXGM/UAx1yxp4kjI/AAAAAAAAAoU/bG5ez3J9ZJE/s1600/Hemp+-+Kentucky+Hemp+Coalition.jpg

The chamber said recently that provided there’s adequate regulatory oversight, it supports legislation to position Kentucky as a leader in the production and commercialization of industrial hemp. The position was hailed by hemp backers, noting the chamber’s political clout.

"When Kentucky’s leading voice for small businesses and economic development endorses a piece of legislation, lawmakers sit up and listen," said state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a former state lawmaker.

Comer is leading the comeback campaign for the versatile crop outlawed for decades due to its association with its cousin, marijuana. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Comer, a farmer himself, touts hemp’s potential while crisscrossing the state, saying Kentucky can become a hub of hemp production and manufacturing. The crop can be turned into paper, clothing, food, biofuel, lotions and other products.

"We could be the Silicon Valley of industrial hemp manufacturing right here in Kentucky," Comer said recently.

Bills aimed at legalizing the crop have been introduced in the Kentucky House and Senate, and lawmakers are expected to debate the issue when they return to the State Capitol in Frankfort next month to resume the 2013 session.

But hemp backers acknowledge challenges remain, namely resistance from Kentucky State Police. And that opposition could have a spillover effect with lawmakers hesitant to oppose the state’s top law enforcement agency.

State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer last month restated the agency’s opposition, saying law enforcement may have difficulty distinguishing between hemp and marijuana.

Comer met with Brewer following a meeting of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission late last year, but the commissioner said they’ve had no follow-up discussions. Comer said he’d like to have state police support but sees the agency’s resistance as a "non-factor."

"I was a state representative for 11 years and very few bills ever passed without somebody being opposed to them," he said.

Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville, lead sponsor of one of the hemp bills, said state police opposition will be an obstacle. But he said the state chamber’s support for legalizing the crop helps reshape the crop’s image.

"Everybody has to feel comfortable with the bill," said Hornback, a tobacco farmer who once was lukewarm to hemp. "With the stature that the state chamber has, I think it does legitimize it. It brings credibility to the issue."

Supporters say there’s a ready-made market for hemp, pointing to industry estimates that U.S. retail sales of hemp products exceed $400 million. Hemp is grown legally in Canada and many other countries, and imports into the U.S. include finished hemp products.

At least a couple of Kentucky companies – a tobacco processor and a seed supplier – have expressed interest in branching out into hemp. Hemp supporters say that could lead to jobs, especially in rural areas.

But the resistance of state police could be a sticking point for some lawmakers, including the top House leader.

"It will be difficult to pass any legislation that doesn’t have the support of the Kentucky State Police and Kentucky’s law enforcement community," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. "As long as they have reservations, I have reservations."

Another potentially key player in the debate, Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, said the biggest impediments to hemp’s comeback are the federal ban on hemp and the concerns of state police.

But McKee, chairman of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, hasn’t yet staked out a position on the issue.

"We don’t want to close a door on any viable agricultural crop that is profitable and would be well-accepted," he said.

Under Hornback’s bill, hemp growers would need licenses, and applicants would have to pass criminal background checks.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said he would seek a waiver from the federal ban on hemp for Kentucky if state lawmakers vote to legalize the crop. Paul also has pushed for federal legislation to remove restrictions on hemp cultivation. The Kentucky Republican said hemp supporters need to persuade law enforcement skeptics that the crop "won’t make the drug problem worse."

"We live in a modern world where we have GPS," he said in a recent speech in Frankfort. "Couldn’t a farmer or anybody who wants to grow it just get a simple one-page permit and say these are my GPS coordinates where it’s being grown and it could be checked?"

As for Comer, the agriculture commissioner has said he won’t defy the federal government on the issue.

The crop hasn’t been grown in the U.S. since the 1950s. Kentucky once was a leading producer of industrial hemp. During World War II, the U.S. government encouraged farmers to grow hemp for the war effort because other industrial fibers, often imported from overseas, were in short supply.

Because it can thrive in small, sloping plots, Comer said hemp could be a viable crop on marginal land in central and eastern Kentucky.

"A decade from now, someone will look back and think, ‘You mean there were people opposed to growing industrial hemp?’" he said.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/01/20/2483327/hemp-supporters-gain-big-endorsement.html#storylink=cpy