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Industrial Hemp: Can it Flourish in KY?

Jane Herrod is one of the Kentucky farmers growing a test plot of industrial hemp this summer. (Catherine Moore)
Jane Herrod is one of the Kentucky farmers growing a test plot of industrial hemp this summer. (Catherine Moore)
July 25, 2016

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky is experimenting with industrial hemp as dozens of farmers grow test plots covering 45,000 acres. This is the second summer that the crop has been grown on Jane Herrod's small farm along the Kentucky River in Fayette County. She said the experiment is filled with regulatory and farming challenges, keeping her realistic about industrial hemp's future in the state.

"If we can ever get our priorities and our thought patterns redirected toward hemp and the great medicinal value that it has and nutritional value,” Herrod said, "then we would really have many different products off the farm. "

While farmers in China and Europe have been growing hemp for decades and Canada legalized the crop in 1998, it last flourished in Kentucky during World War II. Its revival is now pinned on the tightly regulated pilot programs - including the 166 applications approved this year in Kentucky.

Catherine Moore, who interviewed Kentucky farmers for a YES! Magazine article, agreed with Herrod - saying there's a lot to be both optimistic and cautious about when it comes to industrial hemp. Moore said it has the potential for double or even triple cropping.

“So harvesting the seed in addition to the stalk for fiber or the flower for pharmaceuticals,” Moore said, "there is potential for these small farms to actually make money. "

Moore was also quick to point out that there is, "so much unknown."

"Including whether the new Farm Bill is even going to renew this hemp pilot program - whether the plant will ever be taken off the controlled substances list,” she said. "You're in a position where you're trying to convince people of the legitimacy of the industry. "

Kentucky's U.S. senators are co-sponsors of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, which would remove the crop from the controlled substances list.

Despite all the uncertainty swirling around industrial hemp, Herrod remains a staunch believer in its future, holding to her dream of one day producing CBD (cannabidiol) hemp oil for an eager market.

"To grow an oil that is equally as healthy as salmon oil, fish oil, right there on my farm,” Herrod said, "and to have that oil be so healthy for the brain and the liver and the entire body, I just think that's just a miracle. "

The YES! Magazine article can be found online at YESmagazine.org.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY