Opinion: McConnell has fooled many on hemp

Published 11:11 am Saturday, February 15, 2020


Guest columnist

When I mention hemp on the campaign trail, it draws an immediate reaction. Eyes roll and voters start offering anecdotal evidence of barns full of unsold hemp, broken contracts and failed processing facilities. But despite this economic disaster in rural Kentucky, some people still tell me, “Mitch got us hemp!” Funnily, none of the people saying that are farmers with barns full of hemp with no one to sell it to.

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It’s McConnell’s special voodoo, the ability to take all the credit and none of the responsibility, that makes him who he is. As a newspaper editor in the last decade, I was awed by this skill. When Congress was gutting the ACA, some readers would tell me they, “…didn’t need that Obama Care, Mitch got us Kynect!” McConnell’s ability to sell snake oil is not to be underestimated.

To be effective, any pyramid scheme must have many layers. Those first in get paid well and drive an enthusiastic boom in participants. But with last week’s bankruptcy filing by Kentucky’s biggest hemp buyer, GenCanna, McConnell’s hemp pyramid scheme looks more like an ill-built baseball dugout: low, flat, and crumbling. After only two years, we see the hemp scheme falling apart on three levels: bad seed, busted contracts and a lack of processors.

New hemp farmers have been victimized by marketers of bogus or inferior seed that has either failed to germinate, failed to flourish or were of the wrong sex. The first problem is self-evident; but at least if seed fails to germinate, farmers don’t need to waste time tending it. Many farmers have also reported inferior seed that fails to fully grow and leaf. This adds significantly to the amount of labor required to control weeds and a costly decrease in harvest volume. Lastly, farmers growing for the booming cannabidiol (CBD) market are distressed because they were promised only CBD-rich female plants and received male plants, useless for their market.

There are also widespread reports of contracts being unfulfilled or questionable practices being used by buyers to get out of contracts. In December, a trade magazine, Hemp Industry Daily, reported that Winchester-based GenCanna was laying off an unspecified number of workers. Reportedly, the layoffs were, in part, because of a lawsuit filed by more than “…sixty local farms, growing more than 30 million plants on 6,000 acres.” The lawsuits allege, “broken contracts and inferior seed.” Last week, GenCanna filed for bankruptcy.

In January, growers in Western Kentucky met with reporters to discuss their experiences with another company, Owensboro’s Bluegrass BioExtracts (BBE). Farmers working with BBE reported unpaid contracts and questionable testing practices. One unpaid farmer had taken a second mortgage on her home to enter the market and had yet to be paid. Several others said their hemp had been rejected by BBE due to heavy metal contamination. They had their hemp retested and, despite being within standards, had it again rejected by BBE. The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reported that one farmer retrieved her rejected hemp from BBE and found 800 pounds missing.

Farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the hemp house of cards start to crumble.  Carroll County had partnered with SunStrand, LLC to build a fiber-processing plant and, before the 2019 crop even came out of the field, a source in Carrollton told me that SunStrand’s owners had abandoned the operation. Carroll County was out $400,000 and court documents show the county engaged in a legal battle with SunStrand’s other lien holders for the remaining assets. While $400,000 is a lot of money for any Kentucky county, the cost to farmers with no outlet has yet to be calculated, but I’ll guess it is a lot.

Like all Ponzi schemes, the money involved hasn’t evaporated. It still exists in the bank accounts of early investors and unscrupulous vendors. Where it doesn’t exist is in the pockets of farmers and the communities in which they live. GenCanna alone claimed $100 million in debt when they filed for bankruptcy; as that case plays out, it will be interesting to see where that money went.

I guess the old adage is true, you can fool some of the people all of the time. But maybe, with the hemp disaster, voters in Kentucky will finally see through this parlor trick. Whether it’s healthcare or hemp, Kentucky voters should follow the money, see McConnell’s fraud for what it is, and finally hold him to account for 35-years of boondoggling our Commonwealth.


Mike Broihier is a farmer from Lincoln County and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Mitch McConnell.