Clinton, KY. August 20, 2015 - Once again the urgency to consider hemp as an alternative crop comes out of the blue. The closing of the Wickliffe paper mill and loss of those very good jobs, the quietly sinking price of row crops and the need for jobs in counties that may be "work ready in progress" but have few new prospects, leave me to wonder why hemp research is dragging on for at least another year.
Government forces continue to align themselves into two camps: pro hemp and anti hemp. The same tired arguments continue to fly back and forth. While they do, opportunities slip away.
Senate Bill 50 passed the 2013 Legislature. With six minutes to go before the end of the 2013 General Assembly, the House passed Senate Bill 50. This was the legalization of industrial hemp for Kentucky farmers. It was also one of the top three bills in this session to gain media and public attention.
Governor Beshear did not sign the bill, nor did he veto it. Instead, to make a public statement, he chose to allow the bill to become law without his approval.
Two years later, the University of Kentucky is testing hemp. And testing. And testing. And testing.
Note to UK: To quote a farmer familiar with the crop: hemp is, and has always been, a WEED. Throw the seed to the ground, add water. Stand back and watch the crop grow to over fourteen feet in the air.
Back in 1998, a UK study on the economic impact of a statewide hemp crop, stated that over 17,000 new jobs would be created. That figure is close to the 18,000 jobs reported for the coal industry. Coal jobs are going down on a daily basis as coal mines close.
That figure is also close to the 18,000 jobs in the bourbon industry in Kentucky.
Now that Verso is closing its Wickliffe factory, can we recall what hemp is a sterling paper crop?
There are farmers ready to start growing the crop - they will be willing to tell the University which seed works best - if they don't have to wait years for the University to tell them.
From the Ag News story on UK's first year report:
"Research projects include comparing the fiber quality of three varieties of hemp. The varieties will be compared to each other as well as flax and kenaf, other fiber plants. The project will look at two harvest methods and three harvest timings when the plants are at different maturities.
Other research includes two separate hemp variety trials for fiber and grain production, herbicide tolerance trial for hemp used for grain production and a row spacing trial geared toward fiber production. Specific projects are conducted in conjunction with researchers at Murray State University, Western Kentucky University, and Eastern Kentucky University."
Saying this as bluntly as possible - somebody is making money from hemp. It's just not the farmers or the communities that depend on them.