MURRAY — With the law that had prevented farmers from growing industrial hemp since the 1930s in the United States having been lifted in December with the passage of farm bill, many Kentuckians are seeking permits to produce the crop.
The time for growers seeking permits has already come and gone for 2019, but for anyone thinking about taking a chance on this crop for the 2020 growing season, there are things to consider.
For starters, an applicant must specify what type of hemp he or she wants to grow. This can be for the grain, fiber, floral material or for CBD (hemp oil) extraction. This is what the Kentucky Department of Agriculture recommends first before even writing the first word on an application.
Second, a farmer needs to decide what type of operation is going to be established. This will determine if a processor/handler license should be pursued or a grower license is the better option.
A processor/handler license is for an operation that will not deal with live plants, will process harvested crops into products, will process, handle, store or market hemp or will be a broker, run a lab or clean the seeds. A grower license involves handling live plants, working in/supervising fields where hemp is grown, using greenhouses, storage and drying, chopping or grinding the crops.
Once these two steps have been handled, then the application process can begin.
Application forms are available at www.kyagr.com, the state department’s website. There is quite a bit of information to sort through, so it is highly recommended that any prospective grower read and review all of the application materials carefully.
Two areas the KDA strongly recommends applicants research are a pair of regulations, 302 KAR 50:202 and 302 KAR 050.030, which details policies and procedures for both processors and growers.
Applications are submitted online to the KDA.
Once the application has been submitted, and if it is approved, the next step in the process the KDA recommends is finding a buyer/processor for the intended harvest.
For 2019, the pursuit of applicants went way up. In 2018, just 16,000 acres of Kentucky farmland was approved for growing hemp. That number is at 50,000-plus for this year.
“The actual number of growers requesting permits probably is about five times what we had last year,” said Ted Sloan of the KDA Office of Communications on Thursday. During an appearance in Murray last month, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said he believed the increase in acres to be farmed was about three times last year’s total. “Everyone seems excited about this, and a lot are wanting to get into it.
“Here at the department, we didn’t really know how big of an increase there might be. You never know about these things, though.”
The deadline was in November, which was before the farm bill was passed. Prior to that, all programs in Kentucky could only be for pilot/research ventures. Applications submitted during the remainder of 2019 will be for the 2020 growing season.
It was in 2014 that the first hemp plots were farmed since the 1930s, and the first place this happened was in Calloway County through a program led by Murray State University. KDA figures show that 33 acres were harvested statewide that year. A year later, that number had grown to 922, then there was a big surge to 2,350 in 2016. The upward trend continued in 2017 at 3,200 with 6,700 of the 16,000 approved being planted in 2018.
“With the increased energy and enthusiasm in the industry, it is important to realize that we are in the beginning stages of this transition to commercialization,” Quarles said. “Like all crops and business ventures, there is risk in this industry. I encourage all approved growers and processors to do serious research on the crop and be clear-eyed about the opportunities and challenges this unique crop faces.”