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Kentucky Hemp Sales Rose $41 Million In 2018

Andrew Marsh/Conn Center.

Sales of Kentucky hemp products were up big in 2018, even before the federal government legalized the crop in last year’s farm bill.

According to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, hemp sales rose $41 million in 2018, more than three and a half times higher than the year before.

In a release, Quarles said the amount that processors paid to Kentucky farmers more than doubled, rising from $7.5 million in 2017 to nearly $18 million last year.

“It’s important to keep in mind that all of this economic activity took place before the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production,” Quarles said. “I am encouraged by these numbers and hope this news solidifies Kentucky’s reputation as the hemp center of the United States.”

Hemp is closely related to cannabis, but doesn’t contain as much of the psychoactive ingredient THC.

It was a major cash crop in Kentucky and used by the United States to make uniforms and rope during World War II, but its use was phased out as cannabis became increasingly criminalized over the course of the 20th century.

States have been allowed to approve hemp projects for limited research and development since the 2014 Farm Bill.

Then in the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress effectively legalized hemp by removing it from the list of controlled substances and making hemp farmers eligible for federal crop insurance.

Quarles said the insurance program “will take time to develop” as the Trump administration works to implement the legislation.

He also said that it is important to realize the hemp industry is in its beginning stages and that there is “risk in this industry.”

“I encourage all approved growers and processors to do serious research on the crop and be clear-eyed about the opportunities and challenges this unique crop faces,” Quarles said.

More than 50,000 acres of hemp have been approved for the 2019 growing season, up from 16,100 acres in 2018, Quarles said.

There are also about five times the number of hemp growers in Kentucky this year — 1,047, up from 210 in 2018.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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