LEXINGTON, KY 6 May, 2015 – Hemp farming means jobs, said Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer at a news conference in Lexington on Tuesday. Joining with farmers and industry leaders, Comer laid out an ambitious agenda of industrial hemp research projects and economic development initiatives in Kentucky in 2015.
The KDA, which administers the industrial hemp program in Kentucky, approved 121 applications for hemp pilot projects, including universities, growers, and processors. The successful applicants will grow 1,742 acres of hemp this year, Comer said, compared with 33 acres in 2014. The projects will generate data on production methods, seed varieties, harvesting and processing techniques, and uses for harvested hemp – crucial information for the rapid development of a profitable cash crop in the state.
“We’re here today to brand Kentucky as a leader in industrial hemp production,” Comer said. “We want to make Kentucky synonymous with hemp like Idaho with potatoes. … Hemp equals jobs and economic development.”
The re-emerging industry has already attracted investment from 24 licensed hemp processors. Among the investors are Colorado’s Stanley Brothers, who announced on Tuesday that they plan to grow hemp in Kentucky for their Charlotte’s Web CBD oil, which is used to treat epileptic seizures in children. Joel Stanley, CEO of Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises, said they plan to invest at least $500,000 in Kentucky in 2015 and will grow 100 acres. The company will grow 40 acres in Colorado.
“We want to make Charlotte’s Web a Kentucky Proud product,” Stanley said. “This year’s certainly a pilot year. We’re looking at introducing our genetic varieties for Charlotte’s Web this year and we’ll be doing that very soon, actually, and basically hoping to move a large part of our operation here to Kentucky.”
Hemp has not been grown commercially in the Kentucky for 70 years, although the state was once the hub of industrial hemp culture in the U.S., with peak production of 40,000 tons in 1850. Federal legislation passed in 1938 outlawed production of cannabis, including hemp, and the Controlled Substances Act later grouped hemp (a non-psychoactive species of cannabis) with its psychoactive cousin, marijuana, as a Schedule I narcotic.
Comer took up the cause of restoring industrial hemp production to Kentucky when he became the KDA commissioner in January 2012. He led the successful effort to pass a state law creating a regulatory framework for hemp production in Kentucky. Comer then worked with Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Thomas Massie, Paul Hornback, John Yarmouth, and Andy Barr to have hemp programs legalized under the federal Farm Bill (aka The Agricultural Act of 2014). Lawmakers are now considering the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which would end all prohibition and reinstate hemp farming as legal, nationwide.
“Hemp equals jobs and true economic growth, which is what we predicted when we launched Senate Bill 50 two years ago,” Comer said. Determined to launch its industrial hemp program as soon as the law permitted, Kentucky purchased a 250-pound shipment of certified industrial hemp seeds from Italy early in 2014, destined for the state’s research program. The seeds had barely touched down at the Louisville airport, when they were seized illegally by the DEA. Comer filed suit, contesting the seizure, and after some hand-wringing the seeds were released in time for the 2014 growing season.
Following Tuesday’s event, the Department of Agriculture learned that that the DEA has approved their permits to import seed.
Even a former Miss Kentucky, Jenna Day – a 9th-generation Kentuckian with farming roots – spoke at the Lexington event, saying: “I truly believe industrial hemp will revitalize our ag. community.”
Steve Bevan, chief operating officer for GenCanna Global of Lexington, said the company employs more than 40 people in Kentucky and will add more jobs in the future. “We at GenCanna and the Hemp Kentucky Project are very, very pleased in the investment we’ve made in human capital,” Bevan said. “They have enabled Kentucky to get out front and stay out front in the emerging industrial hemp industry.”
GenCanna’s strategic partner, Atalo Holdings, runs the largest growing operation in the pilot program with over 30 farming partners. Atalo and GenCanna are teaming up to repurpose a former tobacco seed development facility as Hemp Campus, a research center that will attract companies and scientists from around the world to develop knowledge of CBD and create an inventory of Kentucky-developed, American-certified hemp seed cultivars.
The prospect of large amounts of CBD becoming available in Kentucky drew Dr. Mark Rosenfeld to the state. CEO of ISA Scientific, an American-based group of medical experts and cannabinoid scientists with ties to Israel and China, Rosenberg said ISA will work with GenCanna to develop medicinal products. “We strongly believe that this partnership paves the way for substantial improvements in treating chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening health conditions,” Rosenfeld said.