Crop of the Future
UK, Purdue Ag play major role
in hemp production
Pilot programs in spotlight at recent Field Days
October 2015 Cover
(October 2015) – Many believe hemp is the crop of the future. Through studies and various research techniques, universities and state agricultural entities are taking a closer look at what has the potential to become an economically viable opportunity for farmers. Major pilot programs for growing and marketing hemp are taking place this year at the University of Kentucky and Purdue University in Indiana. Both universities held Field Days in August to let the media see how these programs are faring.
“Consumers will decide how profitable hemp crops will be,” said University of Kentucky agronomist David Williams. “If the demand is high, it could be profitable at a level comparable to soybeans, corn and other crops.”
Williams is heavily involved in UK’s hemp program. Many in the field say Kentucky State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is responsible for championing the reintroduction of hemp.
Kentucky is in the forefront of the efforts to revive industrial hemp production, Williams believes, and this can “be attributed to the efforts of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky General Assembly.”
Photo provided by UK Agriculture Information Department
Rich Mundell, hemp research principal investigator, agronomist and Research Specialist, discusses the university’s pilot program during the Aug. 13 Industrial Hemp Field Day at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment's Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington, Ky.
Hemp, found in Kentucky since 1775, was once an important source of oilseed and fiber in the United States, but waned with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Nearly 80 years later, the 2014 Farm Bill legalized the growth of industrial hemp for research purposes.
Kentucky was the nation’s leading hemp-producing state in the mid-19th century with a peak production of 40,000 tons in 1850. U.S. hemp production declined after the Civil War. Hemp production in Kentucky and the United States revived during World War II as part of the war effort, but declined when the war was over.
Williams and his colleagues at UK have planted test plots of industrial hemp to study basic production questions, such as what kind of yields growers can expect, optimal soil conditions, which nutrients to apply, and how to identify and manage pest and diseases.
“There are many, many potential varieties of industrial hemp,” said Williams. Research will show which is best to grow for grain or fiber.
Photo provided by Purdue Agriculture Information Department
Purdue University agronomist and Ag professor Ronald Turco poses in a field of industrial hemp at the university’s Ag Research Farm in West Lafayette, Ind.
“We’ve done several trials this year,” he said. Further research will show things such as the analysis of oils, which can reveal if one variety is more nutritious than another.
Williams said the university got its hemp seeds to grow for research from “all over, mostly Europe.” Some came from Canada, China and Australia.
As to the next step in this program, “We will continue with very similar experiments that were begun this year,” said Williams. Researchers need to find out which hemp varieties can be used for the production of fiber, grains and cannabinoids.
As in the case of cannabinoids, they have the potential to be used as pharmaceutical agents, he said.
Adam Watson, Kentucky’s Agriculture Department’s hemp program coordinator, said growing hemp is “much like growing other crops. But you have to know how to grow it because it is an “unfamiliar crop,” due to not being grown in the state for the last 80 years.
He said there is a big demand for hemp “especially when you look at grain products internationally.” Such items as food, cosmetics, soaps and lotions can contain hemp. “Some textiles have been made from the first fiber crops.”
Hemp products sold in the United States last year had a total retail value of at least $620 million. An estimated 55,700 metric tons of industrial hemp are produced around the world each year with China, Russia, and South Korea being the leading hemp-producing nations. Together, they account for 70 percent of the world’s industrial hemp supply.
Watson said industrial hemp is not necessarily a replacement crop for products such as tobacco. Rather it can be used as a rotation crop. UK held a hemp research field day on Aug. 13 to educate others about industrial hemp.
As to what can be done with hemp once it is harvested, Atalo Holdings in Winchester, Ky., may have the solution. Atalo specializes in research, development and commercialization of industrial hemp and was approved for $500,000 through a Kentucky Agricultural Development fund grant and loan money to purchase processing equipment for a new crushing and processing facility.
UK agronomist and professor David Williams examines this tall stand of hemp at the UK Ag Research Farm. Below, journalists and guests take part in the Aug. 13 Industrial Hemp Field Day in Lexington, Ky.
Earlier this year, Atalo distributed roughly 14,000 pounds of hemp seed for its 30 growers who raised approximately 545 acres of hemp across the central part of the state. “Kentucky was once known as the hemp capital of the world, and we’re on our way to restoring our hemp crop to prominence,” said Atalo CEO Andrew R. Graves in a press release.
“Having the right agricultural information is very important,” said Beckerman. “Even more important is making sure that the supply chain is in place-that growers can reliably purchase seed that will grow and yield in Indiana, and that buyers provide contracts for the seed and fiber that is produced. We want to set the stage so that everyone interested has a chance at being successful.”
There is interest in the hemp program in Oldham County, Ky., according to Traci Missun, Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources. “A lot of people call and ask about it. I have to direct them to the University of Kentucky to get an application.”
Earlier this year, a Farm Fest event was held in Crestwood, Ky., where there were “several tents with different hemp topics,” Missun said. “Adam Watson taught them, and there always seemed to be an interested crowd.”
Farmers growing industrial hemp and needing a processing facility may soon turn to Atalo Holdings Inc. The old Rickard Seed factory in Winchester will be the site of Atalo’s new hemp research campus, said Arthur Rouse, spokesman for Atalo. Seed processing is something he sees in the immediate future for hemp.
“Everyone wonders what real potential there is, since it’s been off the market since 1937,” Rouse said. He thinks it has “excellent potential as there is more interest in hemp for medicine.”
There is also “a very bright future for the food industry,” he said. In addition, it is one more crop that can be used for rotation on farms, This will tell if there is any profit in it at all.
Rouse said Kentucky is “most definitely still in the educational phase of hemp, still testing seed varieties. Even though hemp is legal in other places in the world, the research is not as accurate.”
Rouse said Atalo CEO Andrew Graves and his business partners are working with the University of Kentucky for the second year in a row to crow hemp crops and are “excited about the opportunity.” Graves is a seventh generation farmer who has spent the last 23 years leading efforts to legalize and re-commercialize industrial hemp.
From 1994 until 2000, Graves served as president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association and as a board member of the North American Industrial Hemp Council. In 1995, Graves worked with former Kentucky Gov. Louie Nunn to write and pass legislation in fostering hemp research in Kentucky.
In a recent press release Graves said, “We are working with our expanding grower group to actively test multiple seed varieties and processes in the field that should result in better agronomy, better yields and a clear path to market.” Atalo imported and distributed approximately 14,000 pounds of hemp seed to its 30 growers who raised up to 545 acres of hemp across central Kentucky.
This federal multi-state project includes not only research at UK but also at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue held a hemp Field Day on Aug. 25. Ron Turco, Agronomy Professor and Director at the Global Sustainability Institute, has led the way in hemp research, assisted by Janna Beckerman.
Beckerman, Professor and Extension Plant Pathologist, said a lot more research needs to be done to “ensure reliable, sustainable production in Indiana. A lot of what is reported about hemp, about it being pest free and not needing fertilizer, is simply not true.”
She said the university has been inundated with requests for information from potential growers and established growers who want to diversity. The next step is to “expand, evaluate more varieties to see what works best in Indiana, work out more of the agronomics (plant density, fertility, seed treatments), while hoping we don’t have another wettest year on record.”
Currently, hemp has a higher value per bushel than many other crops at 70-90 cents per pound. Beckerman said the estimated value of U.S. hemp imports exceeded $38.5 million in 2013, with 73 percent of the value in hemp seed.
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