Hemp: An Old Crop with a New Opportunity

Photo Credits: The Lane Report
By Abby Laub

An increasing number of people are aware that before it was known for tobacco, Kentucky was prosperous because of industrial hemp, and today’s generation of farmers and researchers are working to again unleash the crop’s economic potential despite still being handcuffed by stiff federal regulations.

“I’m very excited about the potential if we can get through some of these regulatory hurdles,” said Brent Burchett, Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s (KDA) division director for the Division of Value-Added Plant Production. “There is so much potential, and there’s consumer excitement for these products. Our farmers have shown they can grow this. Their granddaddies grew this.” 

But just because previous generations of Kentucky farmers successfully cultivated hemp, doesn’t mean today’s playing – or growing – field is the same as it was in hemp’s pre-Prohibition heyday before being included in the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Kentucky hemp farmers from the 1800s through the early 1900s, including Henry Clay, primarily cultivated the crop for fiber. It was long considered to produce the best rope, paper and durable fabric. Kentucky hemp supplied millions of pounds of fiber for the World War II effort.

These days, interest is weighted more heavily on the human consumption side – in the form of the nutraceutical cannabidiol (CBD) oil, and seeds that can be hulled, toasted or ground up into protein powder. The highly profitable CBD oil is the most valuable, but also is currently under threat from the Food and Drug Administration.

On the seed and fiber sides, the applications are endless and the harvest is ripe. Hemp is considered a superfood and many Kentucky chefs are experimenting with it. Unique Kentucky fiber interests include equine stall bedding, car parts and building material.

“We haven’t even found all of the areas this can fill,” said Tom Hutchens, chief research officer at Atalo, a Winchester company that specializes in the research, development and commercialization of industrial hemp. “Fiber has one of the greatest opportunities down the road because it’s a totally new mindset.” 

Atalo CEO and General Counsel William Hilliard added, “This crop is today where corn and soybeans were about 50 years ago.”

Ironically, more than 50 years ago, the “fall” of hemp production is what led to the rise of tobacco in Kentucky.

“It’s a very unique, once in a lifetime opportunity for most farmers to be on the front end of a brand new crop that could maybe be the premier protein source in the United States in the not so distant future,” Hilliard added. “And to apply our ingenuity and know-how and the Kentucky and American farmers’ knowledge to an old crop with a brand new opportunity is very unique.”

Read the full article at The Lane Report.com

Kyndle would like to thank The Gleaner and Union County First for the use of images throughout this site.