If Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles gets his way, the state will once again become synonymous with hemp.
"When people think of Kentucky, I want them to think the same thing they think about hemp like they do Idaho potatoes and Florida orange juice,” Quarles said to Forbes. “Countless family farms grew it as a cash crop, including my family, as recently as World War II.”
Kentucky was the top hemp producer in the United States in the 19th century and early 20th century. Nine Kentucky counties grew 75% of all hemp in the country. But when hemp became a Schedule I substance in the 1950s, production came to almost a complete halt.
Progress In 2019
However, hemp is making a comeback in Kentucky thanks to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. The USDA reports that 42,000 hemp acres were planted in 2019, up from 26,000 acres in 2018. There’s also 2.9 million square feet of greenhouse space in Kentucky with a sole focus on hemp production.
Quarles also notes significant leaps in other hemp-related areas over the last year. He says there are boosts in hemp companies (70 to 200) and farmers growing up (200 to 1,000). Kentucky employs 500 people in hemp processing jobs and Quarles expects over $100 million in state hemp sales this year. Recent reports suggest that the CBD market could be a $16 billion industry in the U.S. by 2025.
Progress is also being made on other regulatory fronts. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to get approval for crop production technology and inputs. This will allow farmers access to necessary tools to control weeds.
The burgeoning hemp boom is even considering many farmers to move to the state. Quarles is hopeful that the FDA will resolve current questions around hemp so that the state can continue moving forward.
“It’s getting better… Not a day goes by when I don't have multiple inquiries,” Quarles said. "I have honest conversations with our farm community about what hemp is and what hemp is not. We’re fighting for the family farmers.”