• May 23, 2024

Hemp plantings up in Kentucky

 Hemp plantings up in Kentucky

Kentucky, which two decades ago was the most tobacco-dependent state in the US, farmers are planting less of the crop after growing health concerns have reduced demand, according to a story by Jen Skerritt for Bloomberg News.

Instead, they’re increasingly turning to hemp, marijuana’s legal cousin.

This year they more than doubled their sowings of hemp to become the No. 2 producer in the US, trailing Colorado.

Hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the latter’s psychoactive ingredient. Hemp can be processed into more than 25,000 products, but the main uses include the production of rope, linens, food and personal-care products.

“The profit is promising,” said 32-year-old Giles Shell, who farms with his dad and brother on 200 acres 45 minutes south of Lexington, Kentucky. The family next year plans to dedicate 80 acres to hemp, land that for four generations was seeded with tobacco.

For a number of reasons, in 2014 only 33 acres were planted to hemp in Kentucky. But that figure rose to 922 acres in 2015 and to 2,350 acres in 2016, according to the state’s agriculture department.

That’s still a tiny amount compared with the 72,900 acres Kentucky farmers planted to tobacco in 2015, but Kentucky nevertheless accounted for almost 25 percent of the 9,650 acres grown to hemp nationally this year, according to data from the Hemp Industries Association.

Hemp’s potential is huge, said Steve Bevan, the chief executive officer of GenCanna, a Kentucky-based industrial hemp grower that is extracting oil from the plant to use in wholesale and retail products. The company plans to boost its production to 500 acres in 2017, up from 100 this year, he said.

“We’re going to need more plants, and we’re going to need more acres,” Bevan said.

Farmers are looking for alternatives as prices for other grains and commodities remain depressed and the tobacco market continues to decline, said Doris Hamilton, the industrial hemp program manager for Kentucky’s agriculture department.

Shell planted his last tobacco crop in 2015.

His neighbors are also trying to grow hemp, which Shell plans to buy and resell to GenCanna for processing.

“There’s a lot of growers in this area that are trying hemp, and it all starts from the flailing tobacco market,” Shell said. “Hemp is taking off.”