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Kentucky Hemp Industry Won't Grow Overnight, Agriculture Economists Say

As Kentucky and federal lawmakers consider legalizing industrial hemp, the chair of the University of Kentucky's agriculture economics department notes that such an industry won't rise overnight.

It's a matter of economic viability. The main question being: With corn, soybeans and other crops selling at record high levels, what would entice farmers to switch to hemp instead?

Leigh Maynard, chair of the University of Kentucky’s ag economics department, said he expects farmers to be hesitant to begin growing industrial hemp. Maynard said  farmers will likely balk at the idea of foregoing record high prices in other markets just to grow hemp.

“I would expect producers to be fairly cautious about jumping in to a market that is undefined at this time,” Maynard said.

Still, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says he wouldn’t advocate for hemp if he didn’t think companies would offer contracts to farmers for the plant. Comer, the leading advocate in Kentucky for hemp, said also he wouldn’t push for legalization if he didn’t already have interest from Kentucky farmers and businesses interested in using hemp for their goods.

But demand is a question, Maynard said. So far, the demand for hemp in Kentucky is currently non-existent, because the plant is illegal, he said.

And then there's infrastructure, Maynard said.

“Another thing to point out is that there is no manufacturing capacity for products produced from hemp or at least that would need to be developed to a much greater degree in tandem with developments in production and marketing infrastructure,” he said.

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