Hemp test crop sees first harvest

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WHAS11) -- 70 years after the U.S. government enacted a ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the University of Kentucky legally harvested its experimental crop Tuesday morning, one of 15 allowed in the state this year after state and federal legislation cleared the way.

Kentucky is allowed to explore whether hemp could be a viable and profitable crop in the future.

'There is a great possibility that it can become a viable crop in Kentucky,' said
David Williams, a University of Kentucky Agronomist. 'It's not the most complicated crop to grow for farmers. I think they would pick up on it immediately with very little guidance.'

After the test crop was mowed Tuesday morning, the hemp stalks remained on the ground for a two week retting process in which microbes separate the different kinds of fibers in the plant.

Hemp's potential uses include the manufacture of auto parts, cosmetics, clothing and medicines.

'It's just hope,' said Bill Polyniak, who develops CBD oil which is used to reduce seizures. 'It's a lot of hope for American farmers and people with sick children, sick families out there.'

About half of Kentucky's pilot hemp crops have yet to be harvested.

'We're only allowed to do these projects as research,' explained Adam Watson, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's hemp coordinator. 'We don't have authorization where it can become a private cash crop where it's open to the farm economy.'

Kentucky was once the top hemp-producing state in the country before the Civil War. Local advocates say Kentucky is leading hemp's resurgence.

'Kentucky is ahead of the game,' said Josh Hendrix, President and Founder of the Kentucky Hemp Industries Association. 'And I can say that everybody is impressed with what we're doing and really wants to learn from us to be the flagship of this industry.'

Originally the brainchild of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, the hemp project is also the result of unusual bipartisan cooperation by state and federal lawmakers.

With support from Congressmen John Yarmuth (D) and Thomas Massie (R), and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) secured language in the Farm Bill to establish the project.

'I have heard from many Kentuckians who see this as a first step towards re-establishing this commodity and market for Kentucky,' McConnell said in a statement, 'one that may create jobs in the future.'

McConnell reiterated that his support for hemp cultivation does not come at the expense of support for Kentucky's law enforcement's efforts against the growing of marijuana. Though the two plants are related and resemble each other, industrial hemp has only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound which gives marijuana users a drug 'high.'


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