On May 12, 2014, a historic crop planting took place on the farm at Murray State University. For the first time since the World War II era, industrial hemp was legally planted under federal and state law in the United States.
In 1970, the DEA listed all cannabis varieties as a Schedule I narcotic, making no distinction between marijuana and the nonintoxicating industrial hemp. The action effectively outlawed industrial hemp cultivation.
It was no simple task to gain the legal ability to plant the first industrial hemp research plot. In 2013, the state senate passed Kentucky Senate Bill 50, championed by Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer. It created a framework to permit Kentucky farmers to plant industrial hemp when allowed to do so by federal regulations. At a federal level, the 2014 Farm Bill Section 7606 authorized state departments of agriculture to create research pilot programs to study industrial hemp production, processing and marketing.
As a result of both pieces of legislation, Commissioner Comer established the Industrial Hemp Research Program, which has expanded to projects with six universities and several private cooperators. Research plots are located across the state as far east as Bath County and as far west as Murray.
The past year has served as a homecoming for industrial hemp, as Kentucky was a historic leader in its production. Today’s Kentucky farmers recall parents or grandparents who had grown industrial hemp for the war materials effort. Unfortunately, the elapsed time between that era and today left Kentucky producers starting from scratch on integrating industrial hemp into modern farming systems.
The Industrial Hemp Research Program will determine the best varieties and cultivation methods to reliably produce industrial hemp in Kentucky. The project also includes efforts to process and ultimately market the raw farm product to a wide range of industries. Industrial hemp can be utilized in a number of ways, including edible seed and oil, construction materials, textiles, composite plastics, nutraceutical CBD (cannabidiol) products, biofuels, and animal bedding, just to name a few. Industrial hemp is poised be an important part of the national agricultural economy for decades to come – with Kentucky at its forefront.