FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The outlook for industrial hemp in Kentucky is bright, according to Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles.
He told the House Agriculture committee on Wednesday that 2018 was a banner year.
“We had great participation by our research universities. Over 70 hemp companies, some small, some big, some undergoing expansive and aggressive growth right now and a little over 200 farmers grew hemp,” he said.
Quarles said hemp was grown in over half of Kentucky’s 120 counties last year and he expects that to reach about 100 in 2019.
“In 2017, we had $17 million in Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky Proud industrial hemp products sold legally to Americans,” he told lawmakers. “For 2018, we’re still waiting for some numbers to come back, but we believe it will be about a 300 percent increase in the number of sales. So, if you want to look at economic impact, look at what our processers are doing with selling this to Americans.”
He says they anticipate releasing the final 2018 data sometime next month.
As for the future, Quarles said, “It’s my vision that Kentucky farmers can, if they choose to do so, include industrial hemp on a rotational basis, as they do other crops. There will be some folks who specialize, in particular cannabinoids, that we’ll be yielding from the floral part of the plant.”
That is what goes into making CBD oil, he said.
He testified that unlike tobacco, corn or soybeans, which are grown in very similar ways, “Industrial Hemp is grown differently, depending on what the product is. So a fiber grower, versus a seed grower, versus a CBD grower, will have to specialize,” he said. “This way you don’t look at your neighbor as a competitor and it gives us opportunities for both large farmers and small farmers to grow a crop that leads to an opportunity to create problems that people want to buy.”
Quarles says Kentucky is the leading state for the development of industrial hemp, and that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue wants Kentucky to have a seat at the table to aid the implementation of federal regulations on the crop.
During his appearance, Quarles also described his disappointment that social media pages for industrial hemp processers and CBD oil manufacturers were deleted by the operators of the sites. He noted that he sent a letter. He told the panel he even wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook, expressing his concerns about the deletion of the pages for legal products, but has never heard back.