Christian County preps for first hemp harvest

Hemp

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014 7:13 pm | Updated: 10:48 pm, Mon Aug 25, 2014.

By Margarita Cambest, New Era staff writer | 0 comments

Though the bumper stickers might have made one think they were at a political rally, local law enforcement, farmers and officials from both major parties toured one of two industrial hemp plots Monday in Christian County.

For the first time in 50 years, the research crop was planted in June at Davis Farms in Pembroke and Rachel McCubbin’s llama farm in northern Christian County.

Two months later, both plots have shot up out of the ground. Much higher than knee-high in July, the Davis Farm plot towered well above even the tallest of those in attendance.

Hemp is illegal in the U.S. because of its similarity to the more-potent marijuana. The plot is one of many pilots planted across the state before the official start of summer.

With the support of both Democrats and Republicans, research plots of the crop were legalized through a provision in the federal farm bill. Kentucky, once a leader in industrial hemp production, ordered seeds from Italy bound for pilots across the state, but they were held up for more than a month in a customs battle with federal agencies. The state’s department of agriculture eventually filed suit in federal court to release the seeds and got them back after agreeing to additional paperwork.

The office of Sen. Rand Paul and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture hosted the tour.

McCubbin, Paul’s deputy state director, said her crop did not do as well after a summer with little rain. However, with more testing she said the crop could bring business to Kentucky.

“It’s not illegal to purchase or repurpose these hemp products. They can sell it all day long but our farmers cannot grow it here.”

Attendees also included Democratic Hopkinsville mayoral candidate and former state senator Joey Pendleton and former Democratic representative Fred Nesler, who now works for the agriculture department.

“We do know our state is ripe for growing it (and) we do know there are farmers willing to grow it,“ Nesler said. “There’s people out there that are interested in growing this crop.”

Although not officially endorsing hemp in Kentucky, local law enforcement officials are opening themselves up to the possibilities industrial hemp could bring to the state’s economy.

Hemp can be used in everything from food to construction materials. Although hemp products are not illegal, U.S. farmers have not been permitted to grow hemp until now. Instead, products like hemp bath products, clothing and insulation are made from hemp grown in other countries, with much of it coming from Canada. The Davis Farm plot will test the crop’s potential to be used for fiber and may be used to create a concrete-like mixture that is more weather-resistant than cement.

Christian County Sheriff Livy Leavell questioned law enforcement’s job ahead, specifically how the department would differentiate between marijuana and hemp. In size and shape the plants are identical, and both contain the hallucinogenic causing chemical THC.

“If we pull over an 18-wheeler full of hemp, how do we know the difference?” Leavell asked.

Although hemp does not contain enough THC to produce a high, when tested using a chemical that reacts to the presence of THC by a Trenton police officer, hemp tested positive.

“I don’t envy your job,” McCubbin said to law enforcement representatives present.

Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission member Katie Moyer said while the similarities in live plants may be uncanny, legal hemp growers would have necessary paperwork showing origin, destination and purpose.

Additionally, the state gives GPS coordinates of licensed growers’ plots to state police.

“Every trucker has a bill of lading,” Moyer said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re transporting Oreos or hemp.”

Moyer said it is also unlikely that hemp will be transported in its raw form as it will be baled and processed before shipping.

Reach Margarita Cambest at 270-887-3231 or mcambest@kentuckynewera.com.

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