Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles spoke at the E.S. Good Barn on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington on Monday, providing an update on the growth of the Kentucky hemp industry heading into a new era of full legalization.
Based on reports submitted to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture by licensed hemp program participants, processors made $57.75 million in gross product sales last year, compared with $16.7 million in 2017. Processors also spent $23.4 million in capital improvements and employed a total of 459 people in 2018, he announced.
Last year’s surge in processor sales and the amount paid farmers came before hemp was legalized with the passing of the new farm bill, which removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances. Quarles said the figures solidify Kentucky’s reputation as a national leader in the crop’s comeback.
“We are building the critical mass of growers, processors and researchers that will ensure the hemp industry’s success in Kentucky for years to come." - Ryan Quarles, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner
Last year, 210 Kentucky farmers planted more than 6,700 acres (2,710 hectares) of hemp. This year, more than 50,000 acres (20,234 hectares), in addition to more than 6 million square feet of greenhouse space, has been approved for Kentucky hemp cultivation. The number of approved hemp grower applicants for 2019 is set to be 1,047, nearly five times higher than in 2018, along with 110 hemp processor/handler license applications, so far.
Quarles cautioned that the hemp sector is in the “beginning stages” of its transition to full commercialization and urged growers and processors to be “clear-eyed” about the opportunities and challenges.
“Like all crops and business ventures, there is risk in this industry,” he said.
The 2018 Farm Bill gives hemp growers increased access to USDA programs. Quarles said federal crop insurance and other USDA programs will take time to develop as the current administration works to implement all aspects of the bill.
The farm bill gave state agriculture departments primary authority for hemp’s oversight. It set minimum regulatory requirements that states must meet to win USDA approval. Quarles submitted Kentucky’s plan to the U.S. agriculture secretary on the same day President Donald Trump signed the farm bill last December. USDA has said it plans to finalize regulations and approve state plans in time for the 2020 growing season.