Rotarians learned about hemp farming, processing and products

Published 7:12 pm Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Danville Rotary

Jerry W. Little is the extension agent for the Boyle County Cooperative Extension Service, which is part of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture’s off-campus information network.

Jerry W. Little, Boyle County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Naturals Resources, spoke with the Danville Rotary about the hemp industry in Kentucky. (Photo contributed)

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On Aug. 9, Little talked to Rotary about the risks and promise of growing hemp in Kentucky. The many parts of the hemp plant — the seeds, stalk, leaves and roots — all have industrial applications.  Nothing is wasted.

Hemp seeds can be used for many things, including body care products, foods, paints and fuel supplements. The stalk of the hemp plant is where CBD oil is sourced. CBD oil is extracted from the stalks and stems of industrial hemp plants with .3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or less. Stalks can also be used to make paper, textiles and building materials. Hemp leaves can be used too, but are not particularly versatile. The uses include animal bedding and additives to compost and mulch.  The roots of the hemp plant are used for treatment of conditions such as joint pain, arthritis, eczema and fibromyalgia.

The seeds of the hemp plant contain hemp seed oil.  Hemp seed oil, contains large amounts of antioxidants and healthy omega 3-6 fatty acids. It is great for cooking, hair, skin, beauty and minor pain and stress relief. Hemp extract, or cannabidiol (CBD), is derived from the flowers of the hemp plant. CBD is a naturally occurring substance used in products like oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm. CBD, unlike its cousin marijuana is not psychoactive.

In 1970, federal policies virtually banned the production of industrial hemp during the country’s “War on Drugs.” The Agricultural Act of 2014 allowed research back into hemp.

The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, part of the U.S. Farm Bill, changed hemp from a controlled substance to an agricultural commodity, which made it easier for farmers to get production licenses, loans to grow hemp and allows them to get federal crop insurance. In the U.S., the top hemp production states are Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin and now Kentucky and Tennessee. 

In 2013, the Kentucky Senate passed a bill that allowed farmers to do pilot programs if hemp was legalized in the 2014 farm bill, which it was, so Kentucky got a head start with research and pilot programs.

In 2014, Kentucky began planting again with 33 acres licensed to cultivation. Permitted cultivation of hemp is on track to top 50,000 acres this year.

In 2019, more than 1,000 farmers in Kentucky are approved to grow industrial hemp. UK leads the nation in hemp related research, looking at everything from herbicides to plant varieties, including plants producing better grains, fiber or flowers.

Even though the Farm Bill removes hemp from the controlled substance list, no person can grow, handle or process hemp plants, viable seed, leaf or floral materials without a license issued by the Department of Agriculture. It is unlawful for a person who does not hold a license issued by the department, or who is not an agent of a licensee, to cultivate, handle, process, or market living industrial hemp plants or viable seeds, leaf materials or floral materials derived from industrial hemp.

Little expressed some concern about the likely economic boom for Kentucky farmers, because there are associated risks. At this time, there are no approved chemicals for herbicides, insecticides or fungicides. If a farmer’s crop becomes invaded by too many weeds, develops a fungus or is attacked by insects, there is no product available to treat the problem. That is a risk that potential farmers must consider.

There are also many unpredictable risks that growers face in committing to hemp as a cash crop. If the FDA decides to control CBD as a pharmaceutical, it’s going to severely limit the market. On the other hand, if it designates it as an approved health supplement, it could foster quick market growth.