LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Researchers at the University of Louisville harvested its industrial hemp crop ahead of impending frosts.

A team with U of L’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research started studying hemp for energy uses in 2016. It got a permit to grow industrial hemp and kenaf after being accepted into the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s pilot program.

“Seeing as how our state was founded on hemp production, the acuity of this particular plant to grow in this climate is really good,” said Andrew Marsh, Assistant Director at the Conn Center.

Marsh was out with a weed whacker Tuesday cutting down the crop. He planted it in May then needed to replant in July, because the original varieties didn’t take in the soil. There is about a tenth of an acre of hemp and kenaf growing, and Marsh hopes that will yield a few hundred pounds of both type of plant.

This year’s crop is much larger than the first crop last year. Marsh said they only harvest around 50 pounds in 2016. The research projects from that crop are still ongoing.

Marsh said more people use the outer stalk of the hemp plant for rope and fibers. These projects will be looking at using the inner byproducts for renewable energy.

Once the 2017 crop is cut, the plants will be dried and then turned over to the bio fuels researchers. There are two main research plans for this crop: First, Marsh said, is to see if the hemp has the proper carbon quality to power a special type of battery. And the other project is to see if the hemp could be a usable bio fuel to pair with coal and generate electricity.

If scientists find industrial way to use the entire hemp plant, Marsh said it could help create new markets for new crops in Kentucky.

“For those who have been displaced out of tobacco farming, for instance, this may be a great solution as far as shifting to a new crop,” he said.

Researchers hope this could spur more economic development in the commonwealth.

“That’s why we do research,” Marsh said. “There’s always a great chance this is going to work out, and that it’ll lead to a solution that we didn’t have yesterday.”

Some preliminary test results from this year’s crop could be ready in about a year.

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