Pubdate: Wed, 28 May 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
Page: A7
Bookmark: (Hemp)


State Is Gauging Economic Power of Long-Banned Plant

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Hemp has turned legitimate in Kentucky, where 
researchers are starting to plant test plots that will help gauge the 
economic potency of the nonintoxicating plant banned for decades due 
to its family ties to marijuana.

As part of the comeback, University of Kentucky agronomy researchers 
planted a small hemp plot Tuesday in central Kentucky. The seeds used 
were part of a shipment from Italy that was released last week after 
a legal standoff between Kentucky's Agriculture Department and the 
federal government.

Elsewhere, a test hemp plot affiliated with Murray State University 
in western Kentucky has also been planted, using another seed source, 
state agriculture officials said.

Statewide, about 13 acres of hemp plots are expected to be planted in 
coming days, said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff to state 
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. The state Agriculture 
Department is looking into possibly arranging more hemp seed 
shipments into the state, she said.

Comer, a Republican, said the test program will "help us recover much 
of the knowledge about industrial hemp product that has been lost 
since hemp was last grown in Kentucky." He said the research "will 
bring industrial hemp back to Kentucky and with it new jobs and new 
farm income."

The crop once thrived in Kentucky, but growing hemp without a federal 
permit was banned in 1970 due to its classification as a controlled 
substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same 
species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, 
the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Hemp's comeback gained a foothold with the new federal farm bill, 
which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot 
projects for research in states such as Kentucky that allow hemp growing.

Kentucky has been at the forefront of efforts to revive the versatile 
crop, and the legal fight was closely watched in other states.

Kentucky's pilot hemp projects for research were put on hold during a 
big stretch of the planting season after the Italian seed shipment 
was stopped by U.S. customs officials in Louisville earlier this 
month. The state Agriculture Department then sued the federal 
government to free the seeds.

The seeds were released after federal drug officials approved a 
permit last Thursday that ended the legal standoff. The breakthrough 
occurred after attorneys for the Agriculture Department and federal 
government met twice with a federal judge.

Harvesting of the state's first legal hemp crop in decades will occur 
in October. University of Kentucky researchers will help determine 
which hemp varieties are best suited for Kentucky. They will measure 
yields for fiber and seeds and study potential weed, disease and 
insect problems.

Six universities in the state will be involved in various hemp 
research projects.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed regulations drafted by Kentucky's 
Agriculture Department that set guidelines for the research projects.

In Rockcastle County, a group hopes to plant 2 acres of hemp on 
Thursday, weather permitting, for another research project. Plans are 
to convert part of the crop into fabric used to make U.S. flags, said 
Michael Lewis, a farmer helping lead the project. The crop also will 
be turned into textiles, he said.

Hemp has historically been used for rope but has many other uses: 
clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the 
seeds; and soap and lotions.

"There's a lot of potential, but the expectations need to be 
managed," Lewis said. "This isn't something that we're going to turn 
the switch and be going next year. But certainly the potential is exciting."
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