Historic Farm Bill Passes

Hemp is legalized, will still face regulations

Farmers across Kentucky have been waiting for a moment in history that took place last week as Congress passed a farm bill that legalizes industrial hemp.

Industrial hemp production will continue to be regulated but will expand beyond the past small-scale production for limited purposes.  It eliminates restrictions on production levels and interstate transport, but will continue to regulate and require licensing by producers.

Kentucky is situated to lead the way in hemp production, and Congressman James Comer is credited for leading the charge in Kentucky when he was an agriculture commissioner and took the battle to the Hill as congressman.  U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell used his power as Senate Majority Leader to introduce his “Hemp Farming Act of 2018” and appointed himself to the agriculture committee, which passed the Senate overwhelmingly.  McConnell signed the bill using a hemp pen after the billed passed last Wednesday.

During an exclusive interview Friday, Comer said the legalization of the production of industrial hemp as an agriculture commodity came to the top for him when considering the provisions of the farm bill.

“Hemp means a lot to me.  It started in Kentucky when I was elected ag commissioner, and Kentucky is a leader in industrial hemp production,” Comer said.

While the hemp provision legalizes the growing of hemp, it will be the most regulated crop in the nation, Comer added.  Even so, increased production will lead to new industries, and Comer had just taken part in an announcement the same day as this interview, announcing a $40 million processing plant in Mayfield by GenCanna Global.

GenCanna Global already has operations in Winchester and has been part of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Pilot Program since its inception in 2014.

“Our strategic plan has been simple – continue investing to best support our customers and the ongoing growth of the hemp industry,” said Matty Mangone-Miranda, CEO of GenCanna during the announcement Friday. “After looking at several locations for a facility, we decided to land in Graves County.  The opportunity to partner with large, sophisticated farming operations and proximity to interstates makes this the next perfect location in Kentucky.  Graves and the neighboring counties also provide a skilled workforce to draw from to make high quality products in a technical environment.

Christian County farmer Joseph Sisk, who grows hemp as part of the state’s current program, said changes approved in the farm bill will open the industrial hemp industry to many more opportunities.

Tony Brannon, dean of the Murray State University Hutson School of Agriculture, said MSU grew the first legal planting of hemp in the nation in 2014 after the farm bill allowed for an experimental pilot program.

“This bill takes the blinders off this industry and I fully expect a rapid and immediate expansion of activity,” Brannon said.

Warren Beeler, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, said the legalization of hemp is the most exciting part of the farm bill.

“The most versatile crop we have ever known now has a chance to compete on the main stage,” he said.

Commissioner Ryan Quarles has also been part of the effort to legalize industrial hemp and supported efforts for Kentucky to be in the forefront of production and processing.

Quarles took part in GenCanna’s announcement last week, which fell just two days after Congress passed the farm bill.

“When I was elected commissioner of agriculture, I said I wanted to make Kentucky the epicenter of the industrial hemp industry in the nation,” said Quarles.  “With announcements like these, Kentucky is proving that hemp is no longer a novelty, but a serious crop that connects our past to our future.  I congratulate GenCanna on their success, and look forward to watching them create jobs and provide economic opportunities for all Kentuckians.”

By Toni Riley

Policy, HempJennifer Elwell