As the first of five Kentucky hemp research tests draws near, local farmers and officials are considering the plant’s economic viability.
In February, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer announced plans to research the crop, including a study at Murray State. The hemp projects were made possible by a federal farm bill that permitted certain agricultural agencies and universities to grow industrial hemp for research.
Calloway County Agriculture Extension agent Matthew Chadwick says he sees potential in a Kentucky hemp industry. The region currently produces mostly corn, soybeans, wheat, tobacco, poultry and cattle.
“Industrial hemp was successful back in the early 20th century and it was grown in Kentucky very successfully. It is a very valuable crop especially with our climate here,” Chadwick said.
However, local tobacco and cattle farmer Lucas McCallon says logistical issues could impact cost effectiveness for the region.
“If the closest processing facility is Louisville, Bowling Green, -somewhere like that- is the revenue really there for me to justify hauling a crop that far?" McCallon said. "It’s definitely an excellent option as far as a cash crop if you had a processing facility close enough."
Hemp’s industrial applications include paper, rope and building materials.
Under a current umbrella-like federal law, growing hemp or marijuana is illegal. However, several states have pushed for (and enacted) legislation that would allow production under special circumstances.
The Kentucky State University test begins May 16; hemp seeds will be legally planted in the state for the first time in over half a century. A timetable for Murray State’s research has not been set, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. MSU School of Agriculture Dean Tony Brannon could not be reached for comment.
The other entities affiliated with the research are the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.
Researchers will study the cultivation process, the properties of hemp fibers themselves and the overall cost of production. The final project will focus on cultivating cannabinoids for medicinal research.
All parties involved have experienced delays in testing due to restricted availability of hemp seeds.