A chosen few members of the area media, agriculture officials and Murray State University representatives saw history Wednesday afternoon.
As part of a news conference associated with MSU’s Hutson School of Agriculture becoming the first Kentucky university to participate in a pilot trial on the re-introduction of industrial hemp in the commonwealth, those groups were escorted to a field somewhere in Calloway County. There, already about 10 inches tall in places, rose from the ground what are believed to be the first industrial hemp plants to legally be grown in the United States of America in about 80 years.
“This effort is all about using our Murray State farm teaching laboratory to fulfill our role as a regional comprehensive university agriculture program in trying to assist the agricultural industry in our region and our state by conducting trials regarding this new source of revenue for Kentucky agriculture,” said Dr. Tony Brannon, explaining that MSU being part of such a high-profile project is not new. A few years ago, MSU fields were the site of a key dark-fire tobacco study that yielded important results throughout Kentucky.
“This kind of thing is not new for us at Murray State. The hemp pilot is not about the hype, not about the media frenzy or calling all the media together for a ceremonial planting or publicizing the fact that we were the first in the state or nation, and not about any past or current other illegal crops ... those are not motivating factors for Murray State,” Brannon added.
MSU is one of several Kentucky colleges and universities participating in the pilot that was made possible after Congress passed its latest version of the farm bill earlier this year. Brannon said that was pushed by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer with support in Washington from both Kentucky United States senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.
State lawmakers passed legislation in advance of that action as well.
The congressional approval was needed because industrial hemp, cousin of the plant known for producing the narcotic marijuana, is illegal to grow in the nation and has been since the 1930s. However, a big push from advocates in recent years emphasizes how industrial hemp is, in fact, not marijuana and can become an important part of the nation’s agriculture economy for its ability to produce automobile parts, livestock bedding, clothing and food.
“For the Department of Agriculture, it has been a long road with lots of blood, sweat and tears,” said Adam Watson, industrial hemp coordinator for the state ag department. “This is a day we have looked forward to for a long time.”
“The big thing to this, though, is we did it right,” said Carl Gering, operations manager of the Seed Division for the Caudill Seed Company of Louisville which is supplying the seeds for the pilots. MSU’s seeds began being planted May 12.
“And we wouldn’t have been in it if it wasn’t going to be done right. This isn’t a one-person thing, either. We found a lot of good people to work with us on this. It’s a congratulations day, but most importantly, for the farmers of Kentucky.”
Wednesday is also a day Chris Boucher had been wanting to happen for about 20 years, going back to when he and others believed industrial hemp production in Kentucky was only “three or four years away.”
“Well, we were wrong on that one,” said Boucher, vice president of the U.S. Hemp Oil firm of Las Vegas, Nev., which specializes in using hemp oil for a variety of everyday products, such as protein powders and toiletries. “It brought me back 20 years when I saw those plants today. It was kind of surreal, really.
“What various leaders have done here is pro-American. You look throughout time, without this plant, we wouldn’t have this country.”