Applicants for Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program will have the chance to appear before an appeals panel under a new process in a bill awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 218 last week by the House of Representatives. Quarles said the new hemp legislation amends legal framework the General Assembly enacted in 2013 to align Kentucky law with the 2014 Farm Bill.
“The industrial hemp test program has always been operating under the Federal Farm Bill 2014,” said Quarles.
However, Senate Bill 50 was passed in 2013 and outlined a framework prior to the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which later cleared the way for industrial hemp pilot projects across the nation.
The Bill introduces the University of Kentucky’s Regulatory Services laboratory with the responsibility of testing for THC.
“There have been issues with the way testing has been conducted. Because there are different protocols on how to test,” said Quarles.
The 2014 Farm Bill mandates all hemp crops comply with a THC level at or below 0.3%.
“Something as simple as a mild drought can cause stress on the plant and cause what normally would be very low levels of THC to spike due to stresses on the plant. Because of this we are trying to figure out a schematic protocol that accounts for these new areas that we are learning about with industrial hemp and one of those would be how the THC levels can change near harvest season.” Quarles said.
In 2016, industrial hemp material from four plots exceeded the 0.3% THC limit. Destruction procedures are underway for materials at two of the remaining plots. Quarles said there is not an insurance plan to cover this kind of loss.
“We are very clear at the KDA that this is an experimental crop and we are very clear to not portray it as a replacement for tobacco. Every program participate, whether they are growers or processors, in their agreement with the department of agriculture, acknowledge that this is an experimental crop and that there is a financial risk.” Explained Quarles.
An exact figure on how much hemp material is processed for fiber, oils and or other materials won’t be known until the crops are harvested.
According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, most of these applicants check multiple boxes (fiber, grain, floral material, roots, or plant replication).
Similar to 2016, the KDA expects floral material extracts to be the focus of the majority of participants, with possible increases in fiber, primarily in western Kentucky.
KDA Switches MOUs to Licensing
“Another thing that we have done that is pro industry is that there used to be only one year MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) now we are doing multi year MOUS and in fact the term MOU will be jettisoned in this legislation, and now we are actually issuing licenses with the department of agriculture.” Said Quarles.
The federal government has referenced licensing as an eventual framework on the national level said Quarles, “so we are already trying to align ourselves by using licensing.”
Director of Value-Added Plant Production for the KDA, Brent Burchett says from the perspective of participants, holding an MOU will be no different than holding a license.
“This bill was drafted so that the transition from the old law (SB 50, in 2013) to the new one will be smooth and seamless for our program participants. We have communicated to all of our 2017 participants that there is no need to change or adjust your plans for the current growing year.” Burchett said.
Applicants are still required to submit global positioning coordinates for those fields or greenhouses that will be used to grow hemp, provide written prior consent for law enforcement to enter premises where hemp is located, and submit to an annual criminal background check.
Commissioner Quarles emphasized that the KDA is committed to working in close cooperation with law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth.
In January, the KDA approved 209 applications from growers to cultivate up to 12,800 acres of industrial hemp this growing season. That’s nearly triple the acres approved for the previous year making Kentucky the largest industrial hemp research project program in the nation.