Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ky. agriculture commissioner touts plan for farming in Appalachia, announces 5 hemp study projects

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced a new program Monday to promote farming in the state’s Appalachian region, including announcement of the first five pilot projects to grow industrial hemp under a provision included in the new Farm Bill. (Getty Images photo by Bernd Settnik: Dried hemp)

The hemp projects will be run by several of the state's public universities, in accordance with the bill, which allows colleges, universities or "state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in January when he introduced the language to the bill.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a longtime hemp advoctae, joined McConnell and Comer in announcing the initiatives, which will include development of seed and "will study basic agricultural production questions, including proper planting, harvesting and yield," Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Another project will "focus on growing cannabinoids for medical research, according to an agricultural economic development plan released during the news conference" in Knott County, which has lost almost half its coal jobs in the last two years. (Read more)

The final project, which is still being ironed out, would probably be affiliated with the University of Louisville, though the university hasn't agreed yet to participate, Gregory Hall reports for The Courier-Journal of Louisville. For the project, "the state agriculture department will oversee hemp farming on an as-yet undetermined former industrial site to study whether the the crop can help clean tainted soil." (Read more)

Comer also announced creation of an "Appalachia Proud" label for marketing products from the region, like the state's "Kentucky Proud" label that has proven successful, and various other measures, including a call to return all coal severance tax revenue to the counties of origin, Bill Estep reports for the Herald-Leader. Comer is planning to run for governor in 2015.

State farmers are ready to begin growing hemp. Rockcastle County farmer Michael Lewis, who has room to plant 50 to 100 acres, said he is confident the crop will be successful in Kentucky, Bruce Schreiner reports for The Associated Press. Lewis told Schreiner, “Absolutely it’s going to work. It worked 80 years ago.” Alpaca farmer Alvina Maynard of Madison County said she "sees the potential of blending alpaca and hemp fibers to create novelty clothing and upholstery fabrics. Maynard said she’d like to partner with farmers to supply hemp." She told Schreiner, “It produces a textile that neither one could create on its own." (Read more)

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