Denied hemp growers claim they were unfairly excluded

  • Jackson French
  • Jul 15, 2016

    Lincoln Day Dinner

     

    AAcross Kentucky, people who have been denied permission to grow hemp have accused former Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer of refusing applications for political reasons – an allegation Comer has rejected.

    David Barhorst, owner of Kentucky Hemp Ventures Inc., who said he was denied a memorandum of understanding to grow hemp, claims the hemp industry in Kentucky is actually under the control of behind-the-scenes individuals.

    Kentucky is in violation of national law and its own state law,” he said. “In essence, the entire hemp industry is illegal in Kentucky.”

    Barhorst believes the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Review Committee actually decides who gets the MOUs to grow hemp. So Barhorst and other members of Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association Inc., which provides help to partner-members seeking to grow hemp, tried to find out who was on the committee. Their attempts – which included filing open records requests that asked, among other things, for the names of the review committee’s members and minutes from their meetings – yielded no results, he said.

    “We have inquired, asked, prodded for months to find out who’s on it,” Barhorst said.

    The Daily News filed an open records request with the KDA, seeking minutes from Hemp Review Committee meetings and a list of the group’s members. Clint Quarles, an attorney for KDA, responded via email, stating that no such records exist.    

    Nicole Liberto, KDA’s deputy general counsel, said decisions about who gets MOUs for growing hemp rests with KDA. The Hemp Review Committee helps KDA review applications for MOUs but is not officially chartered, she said.

    “It’s not any kind of established committee,” she said.

    Neither Liberto nor Ryan Quarles, the current commissioner of agriculture, would provide the names of any Hemp Review Committee members.

    According to the Industrial Hemp Program’s website, the Hemp Review Committee evaluates MOU applications and will “select certain projects for approval” but is not involved in follow-up inquiries. This group is not mentioned in Senate Bill 50, the state law that establishes state oversight of the industrial hemp program. Federally, Kentucky’s industrial hemp program operates under the the Agricultural Act of 2014 – also known as the Farm Bill, which allowed states to implement hemp research programs.

    According to KDA’s website, SB 50’s goal is “to help Kentucky move to the forefront of industrial hemp production and commercialization of hemp products.” SB 50 says hemp licenses come from KDA, but doesn’t indicate that any group within the department is responsible for approving or denying licenses.

    Meanwhile, Barhorst believes Comer disbanded the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, a group tasked with establishing a program to license Kentucky hemp growers and oversee a five-year hemp research program, in order for another group – the privately held and similarly named Kentucky Hemp Industry Council – to take control outside the view of the spotlight. The Industrial Hemp Commission has not published meeting records since May 2014, he said.

    “What they did was a bait and switch,” Barhorst said.

    According to a complaint the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association filed July 1 with Kathryn Gabhart, executive director of Kentucky’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission, the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council was founded in April 2014, about a month before the Industrial Hemp Commission appears to have stopped meeting. In addition, Brian Furnish, who was a member of the Industrial Hemp Commission, was named president of the Hemp Industry Council, the complaint said.

    “This is the group we think is behind everything,” Barhorst said.

    According to Comer, a Tompkinsville Republican who served as agriculture commissioner from 2012 to January and is currently running for the 1st Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, the Industrial Hemp Commission was disbanded because its main goal was educating the public on hemp while growing the crop was still illegal, as well as establishing a program to license hemp growers. Therefore, its work was complete, he said.

    “Once the Farm Bill passed, it pretty much eliminated the need for a hemp commission,” he said. “It’s an obsolete commission.”

    Ryan Quarles, when asked if KDA is affiliated with the newer Hemp Industry Council, said: “We are evaluating the hemp program as a whole and coming up with a series of recommendations for the 2017 crop year, which would include organizations and those who have been interested in the reintroduction of the crop for years.” He would not comment directly on the council or its involvement in the state’s hemp industry.

    Jonathan Miller, a member of the Industrial Hemp Commission who now serves as legal counsel for the Hemp Industry Council, confirmed that Furnish is the council’s president as well as an Industrial Hemp Commission member. Miller, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd in Lexington, declined to name any of the council’s other members.

    When active, the Industrial Hemp Commission’s meetings mainly concerned the “direction of the industry,” Miller said, adding that the responsibility of steering the industry now belongs to KDA. The Hemp Industry Council is a lobbying group whose main focus has been urging Congress to exclude industrial hemp from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s drug schedule, he said.

    According to the Kentucky Secretary of State website, Kentucky Hemp Industry Council Inc. is registered as a nonprofit organization with an office at 250 W. Main St. in Lexington – the same address as a Frost Brown Todd office. The site lists Furnish as president, Dan Caudill as vice president, Steve Bevan as secretary and Josh Hendrix as treasurer. 

    Furnish did not return phone messages seeking comment.

    Bevan, chief operating officer of GenCanna Global, a Winchester-based company originally from Canada that’s partnered with six local farms to grow hemp, according to Newsweek, directed all questions about the council to Miller. Hendrix, who works with Las Vegas-based pharmaceutical company CV Sciences, said the council has no connection to the Industrial Hemp Commission.

    Caudill, co-owner of Louisville’s Caudill Seed, did not return messages seeking comment. But Carl Gering, the company’s safety and security director, reached out to the Daily News, saying Comer invited Caudill to be part of the Hemp Industry Council. Gering said the council has been involved with promoting the industry and making sure people know the difference between industrial hemp and recreational marijuana.  

    The group has no involvement with MOUs, Gering said.

    Hemp in Kentucky

    In 2011, when Comer was running for agriculture commissioner, his campaign was built partly on reviving industrial hemp, which was once widely grown in Kentucky, he said. Liberals and conservatives alike met this idea with enthusiasm, he said. 

    During his campaign, Comer educated the public on hemp, making sure people knew the difference between hemp and marijuana. Hemp’s genetic relationship to marijuana has been largely responsible for the illegality of hemp, Comer said. 

    Cannabis – including both hemp and marijuana – is classified as a Schedule I drug, according to a DEA website. Schedule I also includes heroin, ecstasy and LSD and is a tier reserved for “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” the website said.

    According to the KDA website, hemp contains low volumes of tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s primary psychoactive chemical. The website also said hemp can be used in the production of numerous goods, including textiles, carpeting, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

    The Kentucky General Assembly passed SB 50 in 2013 but had to wait a year for the passage of the Farm Bill in 2014 to begin the industrial hemp program.

    The Farm Bill’s section governing hemp is brief, saying that “an institution of higher education or a state department of agriculture” is authorized to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes “under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research” and if state law allows it.

    The application period for would-be hemp growers comes once a year. The first application cycle during Ryan Quarles’ tenure will open in the fall, according to the KDA website, though no specific date is given.

    Complaints and responses

    Roger Ford, CEO of Patriot Bioenergy Corp., was also denied an MOU during Comer’s term as commissioner.

    “They said we didn’t have enough growing experience even though we have several people who have farming experience and farming equipment,” he said.

    Ford said he thinks the fact that Patriot operates out of a Democratic-leaning district was a factor in the denial of the company’s application.

    Patriot is located in Pikeville, a part of state House District 94, represented by Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville.

    Kathe Andrews, a horticulture scientist whose application for a hemp MOU was denied, said people with far less experience than her have received MOUs from KDA.

    “We had everything all set up and they just didn’t give us any reason why they turned us down,” she said. “It was kind of a shock to me. It seemed like it was already decided.”

    Because of KDA’s practices, many skilled growers could be forced to leave the state in order to do hemp research, she said.

    Andrews and Ford are both members of KHGCA.

    According to the group’s ethics complaint, Comer awarded MOUs to registered Republicans and political supporters “exclusively” and excluded or restricted the issuance of MOUs to people or groups who were registered Democrats, were not allied with Comer or were in districts controlled by officials politically opposed to him.

    The complaint also argues that Kentucky’s hemp industry violates the Farm Bill, which gives permission to grow hemp to state departments of agriculture and universities, not individual producers or unaffiliated companies.

    Miller, the Hemp Industry Council’s legal counsel, who described himself as a Democrat, rejected the notion that Comer or any group inside KDA has denied applications based purely on political reasons.

    “Both Commissioner Comer and Commissioner Ryan Quarles are running this in a very nonpartisan way,” he said.

    Comer also denied the accusations. “I had no say in who got applications and who didn’t,” he said.

    Those who claim KDA’s denials are politically based are probably upset their own applications weren’t up to snuff, Comer said, adding that there are numerous reasons an MOU might be denied.

    Because the state’s hemp industry is a pilot program, potential hemp-growing operations must be allied in some way with a university for research purposes, he said.

    “If no university wants to fool with you, there’s not much the Department of Agriculture can do,” Comer said.

    Numerous individuals and companies have partnered with universities, potentially leaving some schools overburdened and unwilling to take on more partnerships for hemp research, he said.

    Neither the Farm Bill nor SB 50 nor any application available on KDA’s website includes language requiring growers to be aligned with a university.

    David Williams, director of the University of Kentucky’s Robinson Center for Appalachian Resource Sustainability, which is conducting hemp research under KDA’s program, said the school is not working with any outside hemp growers. Williams also said KDA’s program does not ask would-be growers to partner with any university. 

    “It’s not required at all,” he said.

    Comer said limiting the number of people growing hemp is detrimental to the progress of Kentucky’s hemp pilot program. He said it’s been exciting to watch Kentucky’s hemp industry grow. 

    “We’ve come a long way in two years and what we’re proving is that it’s not a drug and it’s economically viable,” Comer said.

    Hemp has the potential to greatly diversify the state’s agricultural economy and has already proven lucrative for a number of the farmers involved with its production, Comer said.

    “Hemp will never be what tobacco was for Kentucky, but it will be another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “My goal on day one and my goal today is for Congress to pass a bill that deregulates hemp.”

    Ryan Quarles said the crop, though still in an experimental stage, can provide a great deal of economic development in the state.   

    “There’s intense interest in the crop. We have people contact our office every week, wanting to invest in Kentucky,” he said. “We’re very excited to see people from across the nation look towards Kentucky as the leader with industrial hemp.” 

    — Follow Daily News reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com.

    •Editor’s note – The initially published version of this story did not adequately describe the laws governing Kentucky’s industrial hemp industry. The federal Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill, gives state departments of agriculture and institutes of higher learning the authority to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. But the Farm Bill does not dictate how a state should operate its hemp program. In instances in which a state law regarding hemp conflicts with the Farm Bill, the Farm Bill supersedes state law. The story has been updated to reflect the accurate information.

     

    Jackson French
    Reporter responsible for covering Warren County Government and all things Barren County

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  • First cultivated hemp field in Minnesota since 1950 is growing strong

    By Noura Elmanssy on Jul 5, 2016 at 6:30 p.m.

    John Strohfus, owner of Strohfus Stock Farm in Hastings, grows a lot of things, but recently with the help of his partners Ben Thurmes and Ken Anderson, he’s added hemp to his list and made some history doing it.

    Eighteen acres of hemp was planted on June 17 in Hastings. It was the first time since 1950 that hemp has been intentionally planted in the state of Minnesota.

    The trio, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), is participating in the Hemp Pilot Program, which aims to show how viable hemp could be in the Minnesota market.

    “I thought it would be a new and exciting crop,” Strohfus said. “It was something that would be a good fit for our small acreage.”

    The pilot program that was announced in March of this year allowed the growth of hemp as long as the crop could be monitored by the MDA, Strohfus explained. The program is an effort “to study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp,” according to the Minnesota statute on industrial hemp development.

    While other farms are involved, Strohfus has the biggest planting.

    Strohfus, Thurmes and Anderson all graduated from Hastings High School but didn’t get in touch until later in their farming careers. Strohfus and Thurmes had partnered in some farming ventures, and Strohfus reached out to Anderson, who knew a lot about the industry, when he had realized this can be done in Minnesota.

    “(Anderson) has been an advocate in the hemp industry for many years … he has also been an advocate for and a lobbyist for the legalization of hemp as an agricultural product and was involved with the first planting in the United States in 2015 in Kentucky,” Strohfus said.

    They submitted a proposal in April to the MDA and by May, they were approved and signed a contract. Strohfus said they had to wait some time before the seed arrived. When it did, a donation of grain drills from Value Implement of Ellsworth, Wisconsin, and Niebur Implement of Miesville made planting easy.

    What is hemp?

    Hemp, sometimes known as industrial hemp, is a variety of the cannabis plant. There are two forms of hemp, industrial and food grade. Industrial hemp can be used for fiber, straw, construction materials and more. Hemp for grain production is used for the food supply chain. Strohfus said that they are planting the grain variety. Food grade hemp seeds can be used in a variety of dishes like cereal or salads and is used to make hemp seed oil, a possible substitute for traditional cooking oils.

    “They’re easy to eat and cook with, and they have a pleasantly nutty taste, like a cross between a sunflower seed and a pine nut,” Christina Chaey wrote in an article for Bon Appétit.

    Cannabis is most commonly associated with marijuana, as the cannabis plant is the same species that produces the drug. Hemp and marijuana, however, are two separate products.

    According the National Hemp Association’s website, “one of the biggest misconceptions is believing that industrial hemp is the same thing as marijuana. The two plants are from the same species but are more like first cousins and NOT identical twins.”

    “Industrial hemp and marijuana are cousins of each other but they’re really apples and oranges as far as plants goes,” Strohfus said. “So much, in fact, that one of the concerns with law enforcement was that people may come out to a field of industrial hemp and try to hide marijuana in the middle of it because you can’t distinguish the plants between each other by just looking at the leaf structure; however, industrial hemp will actually kill off marijuana and so they can’t co-exist in the same, same area.”

    Due to its association with the cannabis plant, hemp became illegal in the United States through the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Although hemp has a very low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level, which is what gives marijuana its potency, was still considered a threat and was banned from then on.

    As a part of the pilot program, Strohfus explained, a license had to be purchased through the MDA in order to sell and market the product freely. The money paid goes to monitoring the plant by taking tissue samples to ensure the THC level is below the required 0.3 percent.

    “Our hope is that in the coming 12 months, at the federal level, that hemp will be removed from the drug enforcement agency’s schedule one narcotic list,” Strohfus said, “and will no longer be listed as a narcotic and or listed specifically different from its cousin, marijuana, and that way state licensure will no longer be needed to regulate it, it would be a free market, agriculture product like corn, beans, wheat or oats. That’s our ultimate goal.”

    Where is the U.S. hemp industry now?

    With the help of the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Bill of 2014, hemp was recognized as a crop and states were given the authority to grow hemp as long as they also developed a research program to study the growth and cultivation of the plant.

    As of 2015, Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vermont and Oregon had all begun to grow hemp, joining 14 other states that produce hemp.

    “Our (Minnesotan) soils are very conducive to growing hemp,” Strohfus said, “and you know, historical data – it’s been documented that Minnesota and Wisconsin had some very, very good hemp yields back in the 30s, 40s, 50s until it was banned and also the varieties that have been developed now in Canada – Canada soil types are similar so we’re planting a Canadian variety.”

    Canada started to research the crop in 1994 and it remains a very popular location for hemp, along with other countries like Romania, the largest commercial producer of hemp in Europe.

    With the addition of programs like the hemp pilot program in Minnesota, Strohfus said he hopes to make this crop once again viable in the farming industry.

    “All three of us have a pretty good vision around that we want to make this a Minnesota soil-to-shelf product,” he said. “We don’t want to ship it to California for processing. We’d like to figure out a way to work with Minnesota partners and get it on store shelves in Minnesota within this first year.”

    What’s next?

    With the largest planting in the program now in the ground, Strohfus said that monitoring the product is the next step and making sure the logistics are developed in order to have a successful market.

    “Other farmers will be able to feel confident that they can actually recover and profit from the grain as they could bean or corn,” he said.

    Establishing a market for hemp will be a challenge, he said, but if successful, it stands to be well worth the effort.

    “… The profit margins will be much higher than the current margins for corn or beans or other smaller grain crops, wheat and oats as well,” he said.

    Overall, Strohfus said that the journey has been filled with learning and growth and hopes that this program impacts the hemp industry in Minnesota.

    “It’s been really, really fun so far, we expect to learn a lot,” Strohfus said. “Hopefully we can actually get the packaging and the placement on the store shelf, that would be the ultimate bonus, but if we can at least get to a successful yield, successfully cleaned grain and be able to market that to the current buyers, that would be good enough and then getting it on the shelf would be the ultimate prize for this year.”

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    West Virginia Farmers Working on a Hemp Revival

     

     

    Winkin' Sun Hemp of Wheeling, West Virginia

     

     

    By weedhorn 

    The half-acre plot of fledgling plants along a hillside at Cedar Lane Farm puts into perspective the return of hemp to West Virginia soil — a resistance-riddled movement struggling to rise out of infancy.

    Owner Dave Hawkins arrives with a few signs to post around the plot warning trespassers that the area is under surveillance.

    “Industrial Hemp Research Project; No THC Content — Stay Out!” they read.

    After a busy year full of uncertainties, including a rules bill passed during this year’s legislative session that nearly killed hemp research before the seeds were even planted, Hawkins is among a handful of growers around West Virginia who are pioneering the return of hemp.

    But jumping through the hoops required by the state Department of Agriculture to attain permits was the easy part.

    With the research plots under way, growers are collecting data to be studied by Susanna Wheeler, a master’s agronomy student at West Virginia University.

    The data will be crucial to help state lawmakers understand hemp’s potential as a viable crop with myriad uses.

    “It validates the purpose of what we’re doing,” said Hawkins, who also owns Mother Earth Foods, the oldest natural food store in the state. “You can say you did research, but if you’re haphazard with it, it doesn’t have much merit.”

    While hemp and marijuana come from the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa, hemp is a separate variety with its own chemical makeup, and it has different cultivation practices than marijuana.

    Roots in the ground

    On a sticky July afternoon, Hawkins’ eyes lit up when he explained the layout of his three hemp plots.

    He purchased five different seed varieties — three suited for fiber production and two for seed production — that were planted on the plots.

    One plot wasn’t treated with any fertilizer; the second was treated with manure, and the third with nitrogen-rich blood meal.

    After tilling the plots, Hawkins directly seeded them by hand.

    “They were starting to come up within three days,” he said of the little plants, most no taller than about half a foot.

    “The amended ones will probably perform a little better because of the nutrients in the soil.”

    Standing beside him are Morgan Leach, executive director of the West Virginia Hemp Growers Cooperative, and Robbie Kerr, another cooperative member.

    The group has been at the forefront of the push to revive hemp production in the state, communicating regularly with Department of Agriculture officials and providing assistance to farmers trying to attain growing permits.

    For Leach, a law student at West Virginia University, developing a hemp industry in the state has become a full-time job.

    Since January, he’s traveled to a dozen conferences on hemp and cannabis around the country to better understand the industry and network with other advocates.

    Leach is helping manage another plot in nearby Vienna on a former Texaco petroleum tank farm along the Ohio River owned by his father, Jim.

    They’ve maintained a vegetable garden since the elder Leach purchased the land in 2008; but this year, half of the garden is home to rows of hemp plants.

    Their seeds were purchased from a supplier in Italy because they want to use them again next year — something many other suppliers prohibit.

    But Leach is also thinking realistically about how the private sector can invest in hemp without risking too much capital.

    He pointed to Kentucky as an example, where former tobacco farmers are repurposing their equipment to process and handle hemp, given the slowing of the tobacco industry in recent years.

    “No one’s gonna go out and buy a new tractor specifically for hemp production,” Leach said. “They’re going to repurpose the tractors they have to meet whatever demand they have for them.”

    With about 20 members, the cooperative has grown over the past several months.

    It’s holding a members-only meeting on Aug. 12 in Parkersburg at the Blennerhassett Hotel. Those interested in becoming members can email wvhfc.inc@gmail.com.

    Past and present

    During World War II, hemp was viewed as a vital resource. Production in the U.S. reached more than 150 million pounds in 1943, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service Report titled “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity.”

    That’s why Hawkins doesn’t think government agencies need to reinvent the wheel to learn more about its methods of production.

    He’s asked officials with the state Department of Agriculture for U.S. Department of Agriculture documents on hemp from the 1930s and 1940s.

    “It was a subsidized crop in the U.S., so you know USDA has some records somewhere about growing [it],” Hawkins said. “The historical significance is, maybe we could learn something from the past.”

    Hemp farmer and former state delegate Mike Manypenny agrees.

    Running for U.S. Congress in West Virginia’s first district, Manypenny is a longtime proponent of hemp.

    He’s conducting four different projects from the plants growing on his quarter-acre plot.

    One of those projects is receiving aid from the WVU engineering department and will study hemp’s potential as a high-quality activated carbon, which is used to filter water impurities and flue gas in coal burning power plants, he said.

    “There’s a huge demand for activated carbon in West Virginia and globally,” Manypenny said.

    Another one of his projects will be studied by Agri Carb Electric Corporation, a newly formed company that hopes to provide technology solutions through advanced hemp-based carbon applications.

    Industrial hemp can be carbonized into graphene.

    “[We can] use that graphene to develop high-capacity, compact batteries without the need for other metals,” he said.

    Manypenny has also been in talks with the Polymer Alliance Zone to discuss another use for hemp as a bioplastic.

    “The intent is to basically create downstream industries in West Virginia.”

    But hemp’s uses expand far beyond manufacturing and power production.

    Manypenny is also using the grains from some of his plant varieties to create malt, used in brewing beer.

    “There’s a few microbreweries out there using hemp in their beer as an ingredient,” he said. “We’re gonna determine which varieties have the highest sugar content for making beer.”

    All the permit holders have their own visions for hemp in the Mountain State — what they share in common is the belief that it can be a job creator and economic driver in a state slowly migrating away from energy extraction as its primary industry.

    From expelling the non-psychoactive cannabidiol from plants for medicinal uses to processing the stalks and hurds for textiles and manufacturing, support for industrial hemp is growing.

    Watching a coal-filled barge float slowly down the Ohio River, Leach envisions a future in which the black masses will someday be replaced with green.

    Source: WV Gazette

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    Genius Extraction Technologies, a California company the produces hemp and cannabis oil extraction equipment, announced plans to build a new $400,000 hemp processing facility in Winchester

     

     

    The Sunday Drive: Kentucky, others getting on board with hemp

    Posted: Monday, July 11, 2016 11:37 am

    By Steve Foley The Winchester Sun | 1 comment

    Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act established in 2014 is quickly making it’s presence felt here in the Bluegrass.

    That, my friends, is a good thing.

    The Agricultural Act of 2014 allowed certain states including Kentucky to start farming hemp again after a ban of almost 60 years. 

    While it will probably take a few years before we fully know if hemp can replace a significant portion of the income lost with the disappearance of tobacco and coal revenue, there’s a plethora of Kentuckian entrepreneurs, farmers and manufacturers who already are staking their future on it.

    The hemp revitalization began soon after Feb. 7, 2014, when the Agricultural Act bill was signed into law. It authorized five-year pilot programs throughout universities and state departments of agriculture. 

    As of today, there are 28 states including many in the South which have been approved to grow industrial hemp — some for research and some for commercial value. For the next four years, hemp can be grown and processed to produce fiber for textiles, paper and building materials, as well as seed and oil for food, beauty products, biopharmaceuticals and fuel.

    It’s been well advertised Kentucky is the epicenter for hemp, as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer have made the state a leader in industrial hemp production.,

    Now, farmers across the state including many former tobacco farmers are planting hemp seeds that have been grown in the country since the crop was banned nearly 60 years ago.

    Last year, the Kentucky State Department of Agriculture  licensed more than 100 programs at universities, private farms and processing sites. One of them is here in Clark County located off Colby Road at Atalo Holdings, Inc, a 27-acre farm of cannabinoid-rich plants.

    Last month, Genius Extraction Technologies, a California company the produces hemp and cannabis oil extraction equipment, announced plans to build a new $400,000 hemp processing facility in Winchester.

    The facility will be located at Atalo’s Hemp Research Campus on Colby Road, where early testing and setup has been underway since March.

    The company expects to process some 250,000 pounds of hemp for commercial uses in the fall for Atalo and its subsidiaries, Super Food Processing and KentuckyCBD.

    Across the state, hemp pilot programs have dramatically increased over the past year with hundreds participating and close to 4,500 acres of hemp being planted.

    According to a recent report from SurfKY News, Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Executive Director Warren Beeler told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee Atalo Holdings’ hemp contracts this year cover over half of the 4,500 acres planted statewide.

    Atalo got its start with $492,000 in state funds pulled from a 16-year-old settlement between the state and cigarette manufacturers after Kentucky made state-sponsored research legal in 2013, Beeler said.

    It was the first project to receive state tobacco settlement dollars for a hemp-related project, the GOAP reported last year, and it is currently processing its product from last year into protein powder and other legal hemp products.

    Many other hemp operations are also at work across the state, and most hemp grown are being used for cannabidiol or CBD, a lucrative hemp compound believed to have medicinal benefits.

    Kentucky passed a law in 2014 that excludes CBD oil from the definition of marijuana for certain epileptic patients.

    CBD oil is just one product in today’s ever increasing hemp market. How large the hemp market will grown remains to be seen.

    “How big is the market? We don’t know that,” Beeler said in the same SurfKY News story, telling the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee he hopes hemp production can eventually replace lost tobacco income. “We went from 33 acres (or industrial hemp initially) to somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 to 5,000 this year, and I don’t think anybody much is raising this stuff who doesn’t have a contract or place to get rid of it.

    “Who knows where we might be in 20 years?”

    Contact Steve Foley at steve.foley@winchestersun.com or follow him on Twitter @SteveFoley8.

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