LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky agriculture leaders hope more farmers jump into the hemp industry, despite lingering concerns about confusing federal regulations.
Angela Wartes-Kahl of Fiber Evolution, LLC went to the Kentucky Hemp Summit Wednesday all the way from Oregon to learn about the burgeoning industry.
"It's the most exciting time, I think, for agriculture in the United States in the last 70 years because at no other time has there been a new commodity introduced from the very beginning," Wartes-Kahl said.
The Hemp Summit comes after the USDA recently established new guidelines for the 2020 growing season.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said that move is a step in the right direction, but there are a number of other issues.
"The other issues that we have got to solve what the FDA may or may not do with industrial hemp. A lot of our farmers are nervous about over-regulation from the FDA. We're trying to fight back against that. We've had a lot of success with the EPA when it comes to new crop technology. One of the issues with hemp right now is that we're using 1940 production techniques and not being able to use modern technology to grow the crop in the 21st century."
Quarles said a lot of banks are unable to work with hemp growers because of federal regulations. Banks are not allowed to be involved in illegal activities, and even though the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of Schedule 1 narcotics, banks are still reluctant to help finance farmers wanting to grow the crop.
Kentucky ranks among the top five states for producing hemp, even though Quarles said it represents less than one percent of Kentucky's overall crop sales.
Quarles wants Kentucky to be known for its hemp, but his office is also careful to warn farmers about the risks.
"I've always felt that being upfront and honest with our producers is the best way forward," Quarles said.
Despite the risks, Quarles said 2019 was a good year for Kentucky farmers.
"With 26,000 acres, $100 million in hemp sales coming from Kentucky, and 1,000 brand-new jobs, jobs that did not exist just a year ago," Quarles said.
And with any luck, 2020 will also be a good year.