Nestled between the test plots of soybeans, corn and tobacco there's a new research crop growing in Western Kentucky. One-half acre of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa) was planted there in May and is now, as it towers up to 7-8 feet in height, starting to set seed from which economically valuable and versatile oil is derived.
AHPA's president Michael McGuffin and Chief Information Analyst Merle Zimmermann, Ph.D. traveled last week to Murray State University in Murray, KY to observe the test field now in cultivation under the management of Dr. Tony Brannon, Dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture at Murray State.
Seeds for this planting were donated by AHPA member US Hemp Oil (a division of CannaVest Corp.) and are a specific variety that produces Cannabis that is low in THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) so it meets the definition of "industrial hemp." The research project as currently envisioned will produce both a seed oil harvest and a fiber crop.
"Marihuana" is listed under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 narcotic, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has restricted cultivation of all varieties of Cannabis, even those varieties grown explicitly for fiber and seed oil production. But the U.S. Congress this year included a provision in the Farm Bill to specifically allow institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to grow industrial hemp so long as the crop is "grown or cultivated for purposes of research" and "is allowed under the laws of the State" in which it is grown.
Kentucky's legislature passed a law allowing cultivation of industrial hemp in 2013, and reportedly as many as 15 research plantings were started this year throughout the state. According to Murray State, the field planted on May 12 is the first in the nation since the US Congress passed the Farm Bill.
In the past 20 years, the U.S. hemp product marketplace has developed to a current estimated annual retail value of $500 million. To date all of the raw materials used for this emerging industry have been imported from other countries, such as Canada and China.
"This year's research projects at Murray State and other locations in Kentucky may be the beginning of a return of hemp cultivation to U.S. farms," noted AHPA's McGuffin. "AHPA has previously endorsed legislation calling for full legalization of industrial hemp cultivation to support its members who manufacture and market hemp products and who want to have the option of buying their raw materials from U.S. farmers."
More information about this Murray State research project is available online.