Pubdate: Sun, 01 Jan 2017
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2017 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Jen Skerritt, Bloomberg News


It looks like pot. It smells like pot. But it's hemp, marijuana's
legal cousin, and it's taking over the Bluegrass state.

Across the rolling hills of Kentucky, which just two decades ago was
the most tobacco-dependent state in the country, farmers are planting
less of the crop after rising health concerns shrunk demand. Instead,
they're increasingly turning to hemp and have more than doubled
sowings of the cannabis variety in 2016 to become the No. 2 producer
in the U.S., trailing Colorado.

Unlike marijuana, hemp is a variety of cannabis that won't get you
high because it contains less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol,
or THC, the former's psychoactive ingredient. Hemp can be processed
into more than 25,000 products, and its main uses include rope,
linens, food and personal-care products.

"The profit is promising," said 32-year-old Giles Shell, who farms
with his dad and brother on 200 acres 45 minutes south of Lexington,
Ky. The family next year plans to dedicate 80 acres to hemp, land that
for four generations was seeded with tobacco. "We've been willing as a
family farm to be able to take this adventure."

For the past several decades, there were strict controls on hemp amid
anti-drug sentiment, making it illegal to grow without a government
permit as the plant got lumped in with marijuana. In 2014, the U.S.
farm bill authorized state agriculture departments to create
industrial hemp research pilot programs, reopening production
opportunities. Only 33 acres were planted in Kentucky that year.
Seedings rose to 922 acres in 2015 and jumped to 2,350 acres in 2016,
according to the state's agriculture department.

That's still a relatively tiny amount. By comparison, in 2015,
Kentucky farmers planted 72,900 acres with tobacco, an annual U.S.
Department of Agriculture report shows. Hay, the state's No. 1 crop,
was seeded on 2.37 million acres. Still, the state accounts for almost
25 percent of the 9,650 hemp acres grown nationally this year, data
from the Hemp Industries Association show.

Changing national views on pot can also give hemp a boost. Voters in
Washington and Colorado were the first to approve recreational use of
marijuana in 2012. Now, eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia
have moved to legalize, permitting a fifth of Americans to consume
weed freely in their home states. The Colorado initiative also
included legislation governing the cultivation, processing and sale of
industrial hemp.

Hemp's potential is huge, said Steve Bevan, CEO of GenCanna, a
Kentucky-based industrial hemp grower that is extracting oil from the
plant to use in wholesale and retail products. The company plans to
boost its production to 500 acres in 2017, up from 100 this year, he

"We're going to need more plants, and we're going to need more acres,"
Bevan said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt