U.S. Agriculture Secretary tours Kentucky hemp processor and research farm

Photo courtesy of Kentucky Department of Agriculture 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue talks about Kentucky's leadership in the burgeoning American hemp industry in a news conference Tuesday at the University of Kentucky research farm north of Lexington. With Secretary Perdue are, from left: Nancy Cox, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment; Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

LEXINGTON, Ky. – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited Kentucky for an up-close look at the Commonwealth's hemp industry at the invitation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week Leader McConnell and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles hosted Secretary Perdue on a tour of a processor and a research farm.

“I was honored to show Secretary Perdue why Kentucky is the epicenter of the nation’s burgeoning hemp industry,” Commissioner Quarles said. “Kentucky led the charge to make hemp legal again, and now we’ve approved more acres for hemp cultivation than any other state. This tour was an opportunity to show Secretary Perdue that the hemp renaissance is real, and it is already generating income and jobs for Kentucky farmers and businesses.”

The tour opened at Commonwealth Extracts in Louisville, which manufactures a variety of products from cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp. In the afternoon Secretary Perdue saw hemp in the ground at Spindletop Farm in Lexington, a research farm of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

In between, Secretary Perdue’s party enjoyed a lunch at the new Bulleit Bourbon visitors center in Shelbyville, where Secretary Perdue addressed Kentucky Farm Bureau members and agriculture leaders.

Kentucky became the first state to file its hemp regulatory plan for approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) when Commissioner Quarles submitted Kentucky’s plan to Secretary Perdue moments after the 2018 farm bill was signed into law in December. The 2018 farm bill removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act and established minimum requirements for a state hemp regulatory framework to win USDA approval. Until the USDA approves state plans, the federal agency has directed states to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized states to develop research pilot programs.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has approved more than 58,000 acres for hemp cultivation in 2019, more than any other state and more than 3½ times the 16,000 acres approved in 2018. Hemp applications were approved for a record 101 Kentucky counties. The KDA also approved more than 6 million square feet of greenhouse space for hemp cultivation. It is unlikely that all approved acres will be grown. The amount approved is a sizable jump from the 33 acres grown in 2014, the first growing year.

Kentucky hemp processors reported $57.75 million in gross product sales last year, compared with $16.7 million in gross product sales in 2017. Processors paid Kentucky farmers $17.75 million for harvested hemp materials in 2018, up from $7.5 million the year before. Hemp processors spent $23.4 million in capital improvements and employed a total of 459 people in 2018, the processors reported to the KDA.

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