High on Hemp

Oldham, Henry County, Ky., farmers
take the hemp plunge

Kentucky’s fourth year of hemp production
looks promising

LA GRANGE, Ky. (February 2017) – As assistant manager at Ashbourne Farms in La Grange, Ky., Joseph Monroe came up with the idea to grow industrial hemp as a viable future crop. Like many across Kentucky, Monroe said he thinks there is a bright future for hemp production in the state.

February 2017 Cover

“We grew it as a seed crop last year. We wanted to see if the seed could be fed to livestock to increase weight gain,” he said. “We grew it for fun and to see if it would be good for the wildlife (to attract birds).”
In his first year of growing hemp, Monroe planted 10.8 acres. Although the results were not very good, “we’re going to try again next year.”
His team battled weeds, which overtook the crop for the most part before the hemp plants could reach the point of creating a canopy to overtake the weeds, he said. And to date, there are no legally approved herbicides to use on hemp.
Monroe is one of three hemp growers within Oldham County who are all part of the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA). The state is in its third year of testing hemp as a potential cash crop for farmers.

Learn More About
Growing Hemp

• Industrial Hemp Seminar, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9 at the Shelby County, Ky., Cooperative Extension office (includes lunch). Call (502) 633-4593 to reserve space. Agenda and presenter information available at hemp.ca.uky.edu/

The project began in 2014 with 33 acres of hemp planted in the state. This was the first legal hemp crop grown in decades in Kentucky. About 922 acres of hemp was grown in 2015, and the number jumped to nearly 4,500 acres in 2016.
The pilot program was authorized under Section 7606 of the 2014 federal Farm Bill. Allowing farmers to once again grow hemp, it also allowed state agricultural departments to designate hemp projects for research and development. The push is now on processing and marketing potential.
“You have to be contacted to grow hemp for a processor,” said Monroe. In his case, where he wants to use hemp to feed to cattle, he would have to sell to a processor then buy it back in the form of hemp cakes once the oils were pressed out. “We would get the by-product. You can’t keep the seeds from year to year.”
Hemp has been long prized for its oils, seeds and fiber. Historically, it was used to make rope, but it has many other uses as well: clothing, mulch, hemp milk, cooking oil, soaps, lotions, building materials, biofuels, auto parts and medicinal cannabidiol (CBD).

Photo courtesy of
Chad Rosen

This display shows the variety of hemp-based food products made and marketed by Victory Hemp Foods.

Hemp is grown much like corn or soybeans, Monroe explained. “The seed is sewn directly into the ground.”
Farmers want to “plant it thick to shade out the weeds, but that makes it too tight to weed it.” Harvesting is a big issue, also. “The plant fibers are so strong that they bind up the combine. The stem is as strong as steel.”
Even with all the negatives, Monroe said hemp “is going to be big. It’s just going to take time for farmers to figure it out again.”
Traci Missun, Oldham County Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, said, “There are a lot of challenges to overcome with the weed issue.”
Missun gets sporadic questions about growing hemp. Many who call her about it “already know someone who is growing it or involved in the process,” she said.
“Kentucky’s hemp acreage in 2016 was surpassed by only one other state – Colorado,” said Doris Hamilton, KDA’s Industrial Hemp Program Manager in Frankfort. “Kentucky is a natural leader in this industry and working hard to collect research data to assist potential growers and processors.”
Industrial hemp plants are low in THC, the widely known chemical compound found in marijuana, typically having less than 1 percent, according to KDA’s industrial hemp facts. Marijuana plants are usually found to have 10 percent or higher.
In addition to Kentucky and Colorado, several other states have legalized the cultivation and research of industrial hemp: Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. A hemp grower must get permission from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to grow hemp or else he may be faced with federal charges or property confiscation.

Photo courtesy of
Chad Rosen

Workers till the hemp field at Ashbourne Farm in La Grange, Ky., last summer for the farm’s first hemp crop.

Any interested applicant for 2017 had to submit the KDA Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program Growers Application or Processor Application. There is no set limit on acreage, said Hamilton. “Growers must re-apply annually.”
Hamilton said that 250 applications were received for 2017. Of these applications, 234 are for growers and 16 from processors or handlers. “This is in addition to the 31 existing processer participants who signed a multi-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) last year and are already participants for 2017 and beyond.”
Like Monroe, farmers want to investigate industrial hemp as a potential economically viable crop for their farm operations. “Hemp has the potential to benefit farmers by providing a new revenue stream to the farm and a new crop to grow in rotation with other existing crops on the farm.”
It also promises to be a viable crop for manufacturers as well. Not long after the Farm Bill was passed, Commonwealth Extracts was formed as a state-of-the-art extraction, manufacturing and repackaging facility. Based in Crestwood, it is run by partners John Taylor and Kenneth Delcour, both of Louisville.
Taylor, 45, who has an industrial background, and Delcour, who is in real estate, operates a cooperative production network. Their goal is to provide the state with economic development and real market solutions for the emerging hemp industry.
For Taylor, “I never dreamed of ending up in this business.” For him, hemp has been a medical solution to a serious health problem.
Taylor suffered seizures for three years. He got to the point where his medicine was no longer benefiting him, and he had run out of options. After a terrible episode, “a friend reached out to me, and I discovered alternatives.”

Photo courtesy of
Chad Rosen

Henry County, Ky., famer Jerry Durrett inspects a hemp field growing in New Castle last summer.

At the urging of a friend, Taylor traveled to Oregon to learn how to make hemp oil, and he said using the oil stopped his seizures. He began to feel better and realized he wasn’t the only person who could benefit from hemp related products.
At the time, Taylor had been running the Louisville Poker Tournament. He presented the idea to his good friend, Delcour, and the two wound up as business partners in the hemp oil business.
He sees his position as a coordinator. “I have a license to grow hemp, but I focus on a commercial level,” he said. Taylor and Delcour use a pre-existing greenhouse facility in Crestwood where about 250,000 hemp plants are grown in pots. The shoots, or “clones,” are cut off the plants and sold to their group of farmers to be transplanted in fields, much like tobacco plants. The hemp is then harvested in the fall, cured in tobacco barns and transported to a manufacturing facility in Bullitt County to be turned into hemp oil, or CBD.
Their network consists of more than 42 farmers with whom they work, and an average of approximately 724 acres of hemp. “Three farmers are two from Oldham County,” Taylor said, the rest from across the state.
His business has spread by “a lot of word-of-mouth, outreach and marketing.” He is also listed as a processor with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. “If you want to grow it, you need a processor who is in the program.”
Taylor said there are “a lot of misconceptions in the market; hemp does better with a regulated marijuana program.” For those who are skeptical, he suggested taking a look at how growing hemp in other states is working and putting the revenue into education and law enforcement.
“You have to understand that what we’re doing is legal. It’s in all 50 states.” He said that with the right regulatory statutes, “I hope we can draft an effective legislation for hemp.”
He sees hemp as a “realistically good replacement for burley. A small producer can make a good living off of two to five acres.”
He continued, saying, “There’s a science to it. You’ll never grow thousands of acres and combine it. It’s a crop that’s too labor intensive”
Taylor and Delcour currently are building a new, larger manufacturing facility in Riverport in the west end of Louisville that Taylor says “will be the largest in the state.”
In addition to processing hemp oil, they plan to manufacture several other products, such as cinnamon, turmeric, garlic and other exotic oils. “Hemp is profitable at scale, but this new facility has much more capacity, so we plan to diversify the operation to include other products,” Taylor said.

Retail products are available for purchase through their website at www.CommonwealthExtracts.com.

Back to February 2017 Articles.



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