FRANKFORT — Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles announced the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has licensed 445 hemp growers to cultivate up to 12,000 acres and 140 hemp processors and handlers for 2021. The Department has also licensed 3.7 million square feet of greenhouse space for production.
"These new numbers, while down, reflect what many industry experts have been expecting for a year or so," Commissioner Quarles said. “The nation’s hemp market continues to face supply chain issues and uncertainty given the Food and Drug Administration’s inability to provide a regulatory framework for hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, products. Despite the ongoing uncertainty, I continue to believe there will be a long-term hemp market in the United States and that Kentucky will remain the leader on the national stage after the dust settles.”
Of the 445 hemp growers licenses, 130 are “storage only” licenses for growers to market a previously grown hemp harvest in 2021. The KDA oversaw 970 licensed growers and 178 processors in 2020. Kentucky growers reported growing 5,000 acres of hemp in 2020.
The 2021 numbers reflect national trends for hemp production. According to a review of states with hemp programs, 30 out of 40 states reported reduced or significantly reduced applications for 2021.
According to information provided by licensed hemp processors to the Department in an end-of-year filing, processors and handlers reported $130 million in gross product sales in 2020. That compares with $193 million in gross product sales in 2019. Processors reported spending $138.9 million on capital investment projects in 2020, as compared to $207.3 million in 2019.
In 2019, Commissioner Quarles helped write policy adopted by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) that urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop “clear guidance to bring safe, legal products to market.” Last year, Commissioner Quarles sent a letter to Kentucky’s federal delegation to describe how the FDA’s “bureaucratic paralysis” regarding cannabidiol (CBD) is hindering growth in Kentucky’s hemp industry. Commissioner Quarles serves as NASDA’s president and recently pressed FDA leaders in a meeting for action on CBD guidance.
"We are nearly a decade into this experiment and we are still waiting on the FDA to provide clear rules on cannabidiol," Commissioner Quarles said. “I continue to encourage our research partners to submit studies to the FDA about CBD and research to organizations like the Association of American Feed Control Officials about the safety of hemp grain and grain by-products for livestock feed as ways to diversify this industry.”
In March, Commissioner Quarles praised the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its final rule on hemp production, which incorporated changes he had requested. Though KDA made the decision to remain in pilot program status for the 2021 growing season, the agency plans to submit a state plan for the 2022 growing season to USDA later this year.
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