Ky. closer to growing hemp as farm bill heads to Obama's desk
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky is one step closer to growing hemp as a $1 trillion dollar farm bill heads to President Obama's desk.
The farm bill cleared Congress Tuesday, and now it just needs the President's signature.
The legislation covers the cost of the food stamps program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans. It also provides farmers subsidies for crop insurance.
Another section would allow pilot hemp-growing programs to be set up.
But there are still many questions to be answered before hemp can become Kentucky's next cash crop.
For more than a year, the battle over hemp has been waged at the state Capitol in Frankfort, and in Washington DC. But soon, the focus will shift to the farm fields of Kentucky.
The Farm Bill passed by Congress contains a provision allowing states that have legalized hemp cultivation, such as Kentucky, to begin growing experimental crops.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says several state colleges and universities appear ready move forward.
"What I have done is reached out to the universities that have expressed to me in wanting to do research on industrial hemp. We're going to proceed and try to license as many farmers as we possibly can," said Comer.
The hemp will be grown on private farm land under the school's supervision.
The farmer is responsible for obtaining a license from the state and for bearing the cost of cultivation.
The first challenge will be finding certified hemp seed. It's rare and expensive.
"The hemp seeds that we can find are in China and Canada. It's going to take awhile to get them over here, and it's very expensive to transport them over here," said Comer.
Hemp has not been grown legally in Kentucky since the 1930s, and there are many questions to be answered.
Comer compares it to Kentucky's fledgling wine industry. It started small with lots of trial and error and grew into a profitable industry.
"We need to know which variety of seeds grow best on our particular types of soil, we have to know when's the best date to plant the seed, when's the best date to harvest the seed," he said.
Comer believes in two or three years the hemp business will be ready for launch.
"Ten years down the road, this will be a significant industry in Kentucky," said Comer.
Comer says the first seeds should be planted by Derby Day, with the first harvest this fall.
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