Industrial hemp products, production, and markets

Some estimate that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products, including:

  • fabrics and textiles

  • yarns and raw or processed spun fibers

  • paper

  • carpeting

  • home furnishings

  • construction and insulation materials

  • auto parts

  • composites

  • animal bedding

  • foods and beverages

  • body care products

  • nutritional supplements

  • industrial oils

  • cosmetics

  • personal care

  • pharmaceuticals

Kentucky's Hemp Industry

Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa that is different than marijuana by its use and chemical makeup. Industrial hemp refers to cannabis varieties that are primarily grown as an agricultural crop with little to no drug component. It is prized for its fast-growing fiber and edible seeds.

It is believed that hemp originated in Central to Southeast Asia [1], and the use of hemp as a natural fiber can be dated back as early as 8000 BC in Japan [2]. Additional informational sources [3] say hemp cultivation for fiber was recorded in China as early as 2800 BC and was practiced in the Mediterranean countries of Europe early in the Christian era, spreading throughout the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. It was planted in South America in the 1500s and moved into North America by the early 1600s. Hemp was grown at Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement, for sails, rope, and clothing, and was eventually required by law to be grown in colonial America4.

Kentucky's first-known hemp crop was grown in 1775, and Kentucky went on to become the nation's leading hemp-producing state in the mid-19th century with peak production of 40,000 tons in 1850. U.S. hemp production declined after the Civil War, and almost all the nation's hemp was grown in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky [5].

Although hemp was a big part of early U.S. history, attitude towards the crop started to change in the early 1900s. When the US government increased its resolve to fight against drugs such as marijuana, hemp somehow got grouped with its cannabis cousin. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 started the major decline of the hemp industry, as all hemp sales were heavily taxed [6].

The United States reversed its stance in 1942 when they realized they needed hemp for World War II. The Department of Agriculture began to heavily promote hemp and its benefits, one of which was research that found hemp produced four times more paper per acre than trees. The peak of the hemp promotion was when the U.S. government released a pro-hemp documentary called Hemp for Victory , which encouraged farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp to support the war. This led to over 400,000 acres of hemp being planted during 1942-1945 [7]. 

Shortly after this program, the U.S. government went back to its original stance on hemp, and the industry continued to decline. Other alternative sources, such as plastic and nylon, were encouraged across multiple industries. This led to fewer farmers cultivating hemp and many hemp processors declaring bankruptcy. The last commercial hemp farm in the U.S. was planted in Wisconsin in 1957 [8].

Hemp farming was eventually officially banned altogether in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in which hemp was included as a Schedule 1 drug, grouping this crop with drugs like heroin and LSD [9]. 

In recent years, Kentucky lawmakers and administrators have worked to see industrial hemp production and processing resurge to create new opportunities for Kentucky’s farmers. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed for hemp research, and the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed on Dec. 20 by President Trump, removed hemp from the list of controlled substances and gave hemp farmers access to USDA programs under state regulatory control. Kentucky was the first state to submit an industrial hemp plan for approval.

Hemp Timeline 

1616: Jamestown, first permanent English settlement in the Americas, grows hemp to make ropes, sails, and clothing.

1700s: American farmers in several colonies are required by law to grow hemp. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to produce hemp on their farms.

1775: First hemp crop planted in Kentucky near Danville.

1776: The Declaration of Independence is drafted up on hemp paper.

1840: Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps.

1916: USDA publishes findings that show hemp produces 4X more paper per acre than trees.

1937: The Marijuana Tax Act placed a tax on all cannabis sales (including hemp), heavily discouraging the production of hemp.

1938: Popular Mechanics writes an article about how hemp could be used in 25,000 different products.

1942: Henry Ford builds an experimental car body made with hemp fiber, which is ten times stronger than steel.

1942: USDA initiates the “Hemp for Victory” program – this leads to more than 150,000 acres of hemp production.

1957: The last commercial hemp fields in the US were planted in Wisconsin.

1970: The Controlled Substances Act classified hemp as an illegal Schedule I drug, which imposed strict regulations on the cultivation of industrial hemp as well as marijuana.

1998: The U.S. begins to import food-grade hemp seed and oil.

2004: Ninth Circuit Court decision in Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA permanently protects sales of hemp foods and body care products in the U.S.

2007: The first hemp licenses in over 50 years are granted to two North Dakota farmers.

2014: President Obama signed the Farm Bill, which allowed research institutions to start piloting hemp farming.

2018: The Hemp Farming Act of 201810, which is part of the 2018 Farm Bill signed by President Trump December 20, 2018, changed hemp from a controlled substance to an agricultural commodity and will be regulated by states granted approval. Kentucky was the first state to introduce its industrial hemp program for USDA approval.


Sources: Britannica.com, Wikipedia.com, Explorekyhistory.ky.gov, “A History of Hemp in Kentucky” by James F. Hopkins, Ministry of Hemp (MinistryofHemp.com), Hemp Industries of America

1 Britannica.com has conflicting articles on the origin of hemp, with one stating Central Asia (Hemp, last updated Dec. 6, 2018), one stating India (Domestication) and another stating Southeast Asia (Natural Fibre).

2 Wikipedia.com – Hemp “An archeological site in the Oki Islands near Japan contained cannabis achenes from about 8000 BC, probably signifying use of the plant.”

3 Historical information obtained from several articles at Britannica.com and Wikipedia.com. All articles agree that hemp is one of the oldest plants cultivated for fiber.

4 From History of Hemp, MinistryofHemp.com.  

5 From A History of Hemp in Kentucky by James F. Hopkins, 2015.

6,7,8,9 From History of Hemp, MinistryofHemp.com.  

10 The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 was introduced by Senator Mitch McConnell.


Frank Holland reports from Kentucky where the Hemp industry is set to take off once President Trump signs the new farm bill into law. " Subscribe to CNBC: http://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBC About CNBC: From 'Wall Street' to 'Main Street' to award winning original documentaries and Reality TV series, CNBC has you covered.
Lexington, Ky. University of Kentucky researchers harvested the university's first hemp crop in decades today. http://news.ca.uky.edu/article/uk-harvests-hemp#.VCGjSJywIwM.facebook "It was a good growing season for many crops, not just hemp," said David Williams, UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment agronomist and co-project lead. "Precipitation was excellent this year and more than adequate for growth.
At a first Friday breakfast, we explored the past, present, and future of hemp in Kentucky with Dr. Shawn Lucas of Kentucky State University, hemp farmer Mike Lewis, and Annie Rouse from Friends of Hemp and Think Hempy Thoughts.

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