Industrial hemp is a fiber and oil seed crop
with a wide variety of uses. Hemp fibers
have been used to manufacture hundreds
of products that include twine, paper,
construction materials, carpeting and clothing.
FRANKFORT, Ky. — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth and Thomas Massie, former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey (of the Clinton Administration), and Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer will testify next week in support of an industrialized hemp bill.
Industrial hemp is a fiber and oil seed crop with a wide variety of uses. Hemp fibers have been used to manufacture hundreds of products that include twine, paper, construction materials, carpeting and clothing.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will hear the testimony Monday, Feb. 11 at 11 a.m. in Room 131 of the Capitol Annex in Frankfort. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, establishes a framework to re-introduce industrial hemp into Kentucky’s agri-economy if and when the federal government acts to legalize it.
Immediately following the vote on SB 50, the group will move to Room 154 of the Capitol Annex to take questions from the media.
Operation UNITE said industrial hemp production in Kentucky is not economically sound, that it would impose an unnecessary financial burden on the state and could facilitate future efforts to legalize its cousin – marijuana. Police groups also say the legalization and growth of hemp in Kentucky would impede law enforcement officers’ marijuana eradication efforts, because “the plants are indistinguishable to the eye,” said Tommy Loving, executive director of the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association.
The Kentucky Industrialized Hemp Commission says Kentucky has the perfect climate and soil to produce industrial hemp, and the farmers to grow it. Comer believes the crop could be a great economic boon to Kentucky.
The group recently commissioned an economic impact study to be performed by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. It hopes such a study could have an impact on the discussion at the federal level to legalize industrial hemp.
For Immediate Release
Wednesday February 6, 2013
U.S. Representative Massie
Introduces Industrial Hemp Bill
WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced federal legislation that requires the federal government to respect state laws allowing the growing of industrial hemp. H.R. 525, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) is a co-sponsor of the bill in the U.S. House. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) are supporting a similar bill in the U.S. Senate.
“Industrial hemp is a sustainable crop and could be a great economic opportunity for Kentucky farmers,” said Rep. Massie. “My wife and I are raising our children on the tobacco and cattle farm where my wife grew up. Tobacco is no longer a viable crop for many of us in Kentucky and we understand how hard it is for a family farm to turn a profit. Industrial hemp will give small farmers another opportunity to succeed.”
On the federal level, Rep. Massie is taking the lead in Congress as the original sponsor of industrial hemp legislation. Also, this week Massie will testify before the Kentucky legislature along with other members of Kentucky’s federal delegation and Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer in support of a related state bill.
Kentucky was a leading producer of the world’s industrial hemp supply during America’s early years as a nation. It is used in hundreds of products including paper, lotions, clothing, canvas, rope, and can be converted into renewable bio-fuels more efficiently than corn or switch grass. Critics of industrial hemp mistakenly equate it to marijuana. The plants are cousins in the cannabis family but industrial hemp contains very small amounts of the intoxicant (THC) found in marijuana, making it ineffective as a drug. Hemp is grown in over 30 western nations including Canada, England and France.
H.R. 525 has 28 original co-sponsors in the House, including House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN). Massie co-sponsored a similar bill in the 112th Congress.
Posted: 01/29/2013 12:37 pm EST
WASHINGTON – It’s just January 2013, but in the race to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after nearly three decades in the Senate, one small super PAC is already exploring all options.
Progress Kentucky, launched in December, was born out of discussions among Democratic activist Shawn Reilly, who now heads the super PAC, and his friends as they debated how to defeat McConnell in 2014.
“Nobody else is doing it. So let’s start a super PAC and make it a grassroots effort,” Reilly said, recalling the reasoning process. “Make it of the people of Kentucky and for the people of Kentucky.”
Reilly has a progressive background, having worked for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq in its 2007 summer campaign as well as on a number of statewide and local races in Kentucky. Before starting Progress Kentucky, he was a member of the executive committee of the state Democratic Party.
His group’s first order of business is to find candidates to take on McConnell from both the Democratic Party in the general election and the Republican Party in a primary challenge. As Politico reported on Monday, Progress Kentucky is in contact with Tea Party groups across the Bluegrass State to try to convince a credible conservative to run against McConnell in the primary. The group has already sent out a petition to 22 candidates — Democrats, Republicans and independents — to see if anyone is willing to challenge the state’s senior senator.
By actively seeking out candidates, Reilly said, his super PAC is letting them know that they’ll have support if they run. “Hey, if you want to run, you’re going to have some support on the ground here to help you,” he said.
It may seem strange that a liberal Democratic organization would be working with Tea Party supporters, but Reilly said there are important areas in which the two groups agree.
“They are just as concerned with [McConnell's] corruption and crony capitalism — some of the things that he’s done over the years in terms of earmarks,” Reilly said. “They are just as much concerned about those things as people on the left are. They’re looking for candidates that can deliver that type of message, and we’re looking at potentially supporting those kind of candidates who can deliver that good-government, anti-corruption type of message.”
In fact, this would not be the first time that a Democratic group involved itself in a Republican primary campaign with the intent of knocking off the candidate with the better chance of winning the general election.
Last year, Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, ran ads attacking Missouri businessman John Brunner in the GOP Senate primary because they thought he could have seriously challenged the vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in the general election. At the same time, McCaskill’s campaign ran ads promoting then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), the seemingly weakest candidate in the Republican field. Akin went on to win the three-way Republican primary and then fulfill Democratic hopes and dreams by laying waste to his own campaign with bizarre comments about rape.
In the 2012 Indiana GOP Senate primary, the super PAC American Bridge 21st Century released numerous memos and online videos attacking then-Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) for not paying taxes in the Hoosier State and for residing primarily in Washington, D.C. These efforts, while not central to Lugar’s primary loss to Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock, helped drive negative news against Lugar during the early stages of the race. Mourdock went on to mimic Akin and lose the general election after spouting inappropriate comments about rape.
But McConnell is not Akin or Mourdock. To pull off something like this, Progress Kentucky is going to need money. So far, it is relying largely on grassroots donations and not on the kind of large contributors that most major super PACs use to fill their coffers. The group has a fundraising target of $100,000 by the end of February and hopes to raise up to $2 million to fund television, field and other voter targeting activities.
The group has also been in contact with labor unions in Kentucky and helped to roll out a report by the Public Campaign Action Fund, a campaign finance reform group, tying McConnell’s use of the filibuster to particular campaign donors. Those connections could help Progress Kentucky as it takes on the incumbent Republican senator.
Kentucky state senator to bring hemp bill up for vote
- By The Associated Press
- Posted January 28, 2013 at 3:13 p.m.
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee sounded upbeat Monday about prospects for his bill that would regulate industrial hemp production in Kentucky if the federal government lifts its decades-long ban on the crop that once was a Bluegrass state staple.
Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville said Monday he intends to bring the hemp bill up for a vote in his committee, which is expected to review the legislation at a Feb. 11 hearing. Hemp proponent U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is scheduled to appear at the hearing and put his political weight behind the measure.
Don’t call it a ‘Weed;’ Momentum for hemp in Ky
by Joe Arnold
Posted on January 28, 2013 at 8:07 AM
Updated yesterday at 10:38 AM
FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) — Reinvigorated after a ten year dormancy, Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission meets Monday morning with an apparent new momentum.
The effort recently gained the endorsement of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and bills that would legalize the crop are expected to be debated when the General Assembly’s “short session” resumes in February.
Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), a sponsor of one of the bills (SB50) and a statutory member of the commission, is scheduled to attend.
Kentucky Narcotic Officer’s Association: No to Legalizing Hemp
By Kevin Willis
The recent talk in Frankfort about legalizing industrial hemp hasn’t convinced the head of the Kentucky Narcotic Officer’s Association. Tommy Loving, who also leads the Warren County Drug Task, says he fears marijuana growers will plant their crops next to hemp, making it difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between the two.
Some agriculture experts say planting the two crops together would destroy the potency of the marijuana over time, but Loving told WKU Public Radio that wouldn’t deter those looking to hide from law enforcement.
“If you plant marijuana with hemp surrounding it, for instance, in one growing season, you’re not going to diminish that much of the THC content in the marijuana. So your marijuana crop is still going to be a sellable commodity,” said Loving.
KSP: Hemp backers ‘naive’ after endorsing Senate bill
Posted on January 28, 2013 at 4:32 PM
Updated today at 8:20 AM
FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) — With momentum building for an effort to license hemp farming in Kentucky, law enforcement leaders lashed out on Monday, saying hemp’s supporters are looking at the issue “through rose-colored glasses.”
The pushback came as Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Commission met at the Agriculture Commissioner’s offices and voted to endorse Senate hemp legislation.
All three representatives of law enforcement on the commission were absent, including Operation UNITE’s Dan Smoot who joined in the news release from the Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association in opposition to Senate Bill 50 and House Bill 33.
Posted by Good German on January 27, 2013
Forget rising temperatures and bigger storms, this is the big problem that neither side of the mainstream debate over environmental destruction is talking about. Peter Tatchell reported for the Guardian back in 2008:
The rise in carbon dioxide emissions is big news. It is prompting action to reverse global warming. But little or no attention is being paid to the long-term fall in oxygen concentrations and its knock-on effects.
Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere has declined by over a third and in polluted cities the decline may be more than 50%. This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, according to Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.
I am not a scientist, but this seems a reasonable concern. It is a possibility that we should examine and assess. So, what’s the evidence?
Around 10,000 years ago, the planet’s forest cover was at least twice what it is today, which means that forests are now emitting only half the amount of oxygen.
Desertification and deforestation are rapidly accelerating this long-term loss of oxygen sources.
The story at sea is much the same. Nasa reports that in the north Pacific ocean oxygen-producing phytoplankton concentrations are 30% lower today, compared to the 1980s. This is a huge drop in just three decades.
Moreover, the UN environment programme confirmed in 2004 that there were nearly 150 “dead zones” in the world’s oceans where discharged sewage and industrial waste, farm fertiliser run-off and other pollutants have reduced oxygen levels to such an extent that most or all sea creatures can no longer live there. This oxygen starvation is reducing regional fish stocks and diminishing the food supplies of populations that are dependent on fishing. It also causes genetic mutations and hormonal changes that can affect the reproductive capacity of sea life, which could further diminish global fish supplies.
Professor Robert Berner of Yale University has researched oxygen levels in prehistoric times by chemically analysing air bubbles trapped in fossilised tree amber. He suggests that humans breathed a much more oxygen-rich air 10,000 years ago.
Further back, the oxygen levels were even greater. Robert Sloan has listed the percentage of oxygen in samples of dinosaur-era amber as: 28% (130m years ago), 29% (115m years ago), 35% (95m years ago), 33% (88m years ago), 35% (75m years ago), 35% (70m years ago), 35% (68m years ago), 31% (65.2m years ago), and 29% (65m years ago).
Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University and Professor Jon Harrison of the University of Arizona concur. Like most other scientists they accept that oxygen levels in the atmosphere in prehistoric times averaged around 30% to 35%, compared to only 21% today – and that the levels are even less in densely populated, polluted city centres and industrial complexes, perhaps only 15 % or lower.
Much of this recent, accelerated change is down to human activity, notably the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels. The Professor of Geological Sciences at Notre Dame University in Indiana, J Keith Rigby, was quoted in 1993-1994 as saying:
In the 20th century, humanity has pumped increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning the carbon stored in coal, petroleum and natural gas. In the process, we’ve also been consuming oxygen and destroying plant life – cutting down forests at an alarming rate and thereby short-circuiting the cycle’s natural rebound. We’re artificially slowing down one process and speeding up another, forcing a change in the atmosphere.
Very interesting. But does this decline in oxygen matter? Are there any practical consequences that we ought to be concerned about? What is the effect of lower oxygen levels on the human body? Does it disrupt and impair our immune systems and therefore make us more prone to cancer and degenerative diseases?
The effects of long term oxygen deprivation on the brain, called cerebral hypoxia, are known and some sound reminiscent of the general rise of stupidity in the industrialized world.
Professor Ervin Laszlo (quoted in Tatchell’s article) writes:
Evidence from prehistoric times indicates that the oxygen content of pristine nature was above the 21% of total volume that it is today. It has decreased in recent times due mainly to the burning of coal in the middle of the last century. Currently the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere dips to 19% over impacted areas, and it is down to 12 to 17% over the major cities. At these levels it is difficult for people to get sufficient oxygen to maintain bodily health: it takes a proper intake of oxygen to keep body cells and organs, and the entire immune system, functioning at full efficiency. At the levels we have reached today cancers and other degenerative diseases are likely to develop. And at 6 to 7% life can no longer be sustained.
More specific details regarding the drop in atmospheric oxygen can be found here.
FRANKFORT, Ky. — With support from some of the state’s top politicians and claims that it would create thousands of jobs, an effort to legalize industrial hemp — the less-potent cousin of marijuana — may have its best chance of passing the Kentucky General Assembly.
Opposition from the Kentucky State Police helped kill earlier efforts to legalize hemp, which can be processed into fiber for clothing or provide an oil used in skin- and hair-care products. Once legal, hemp production in the United States was centered in Kentucky. Production fell nationally after the mid-1800s, as cotton surged.
State police still oppose legalizing hemp, arguing in part that because the plants look virtually the same as marijuana it could impede drug enforcement efforts.
But the proposal to legalize hemp has gained momentum from the alliance of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, state Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Paul Hornback, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
“This is something that you don’t have to borrow any money (for) that will have an immediate impact of thousands of jobs,” Comer said, based on an assumption that processors and manufacturers would locate in Kentucky if it is one of the first states to approve it. “We’re ahead at something that relates to economic development for once, so let’s pursue it.”
Comer and Paul say the state police concerns are unfounded because growers of industrial hemp would be licensed and global-positioning system devices would identify legal crops and reveal others as illegal.
Comer’s Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Hornback, a Republican from Shelbyville, was filed earlier this month just before the legislature adjourned until February.
The bill would require growers to be licensed annually and have their backgrounds checked by the Agriculture Department. Each licensee would be required to plant a minimum of 10 acres to eliminate people who aren’t serious from getting licenses.
Growers would have to keep sales contracts for three years and provide names of hemp buyers to the department.
Hemp seeds produce plants with less than 1 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, which has between 3 percent and 15 percent THC.
Comer said he believes there are 22 votes in the 38-member Senate in favor of the bill. But if it isn’t assigned to Hornback’s committee by Senate President Robert Stivers and other Senate leaders, it may never get to the floor.
“I’m afraid I see problems in the Senate,” Comer said.
Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said some members are uncomfortable with the bill.
If the measure passes the Senate, it likely will face an even tougher battle in the House, where Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom McKee, a Democrat from Cynthiana, has blocked similar bills from getting a vote in the past
McKee has said the state police concerns resonate with him.
“I think we have some questions to answer, but I certainly don’t want to close any opportunity for viable agriculture,” McKee said earlier this month.
Gov. Steve Beshear said on a Lexington radio call-in show recently that his “only hesitation” is law enforcement concerns.
Even if an industrial hemp bill passed in Kentucky, it would still need federal approval. Federal drug policy effectively bans growing it, although other countries, such as Canada, allow it.
Paul, a Bowling Green Republican, has supported federal legislation to enable hemp production by classifying it separately from marijuana. Paul and Comer appeared together at the Kentucky State Fair last year to talk about their support for industrial hemp.
If legalized, Comer said he doesn’t see corn and soybean growers in Western Kentucky switching to industrial hemp, but he said it would be a profitable alternative for growers in hillier areas whose land is now used for grazing and pasture.
Published: January 20, 2013
By BRUCE SCHREINER — Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Industrial hemp’s repositioning toward mainstream status gained ground with a timely endorsement from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. But the plant’s proponents have more work to do in cultivating support to legalize a crop that once was a Bluegrass state staple.
The chamber said recently that provided there’s adequate regulatory oversight, it supports legislation to position Kentucky as a leader in the production and commercialization of industrial hemp. The position was hailed by hemp backers, noting the chamber’s political clout.
“When Kentucky’s leading voice for small businesses and economic development endorses a piece of legislation, lawmakers sit up and listen,” said state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a former state lawmaker.
Comer is leading the comeback campaign for the versatile crop outlawed for decades due to its association with its cousin, marijuana. Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Comer, a farmer himself, touts hemp’s potential while crisscrossing the state, saying Kentucky can become a hub of hemp production and manufacturing. The crop can be turned into paper, clothing, food, biofuel, lotions and other products.
“We could be the Silicon Valley of industrial hemp manufacturing right here in Kentucky,” Comer said recently.
Bills aimed at legalizing the crop have been introduced in the Kentucky House and Senate, and lawmakers are expected to debate the issue when they return to the State Capitol in Frankfort next month to resume the 2013 session.
But hemp backers acknowledge challenges remain, namely resistance from Kentucky State Police. And that opposition could have a spillover effect with lawmakers hesitant to oppose the state’s top law enforcement agency.
State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer last month restated the agency’s opposition, saying law enforcement may have difficulty distinguishing between hemp and marijuana.
Comer met with Brewer following a meeting of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission late last year, but the commissioner said they’ve had no follow-up discussions. Comer said he’d like to have state police support but sees the agency’s resistance as a “non-factor.”
“I was a state representative for 11 years and very few bills ever passed without somebody being opposed to them,” he said.
Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville, lead sponsor of one of the hemp bills, said state police opposition will be an obstacle. But he said the state chamber’s support for legalizing the crop helps reshape the crop’s image.
“Everybody has to feel comfortable with the bill,” said Hornback, a tobacco farmer who once was lukewarm to hemp. “With the stature that the state chamber has, I think it does legitimize it. It brings credibility to the issue.”
Supporters say there’s a ready-made market for hemp, pointing to industry estimates that U.S. retail sales of hemp products exceed $400 million. Hemp is grown legally in Canada and many other countries, and imports into the U.S. include finished hemp products.
At least a couple of Kentucky companies – a tobacco processor and a seed supplier – have expressed interest in branching out into hemp. Hemp supporters say that could lead to jobs, especially in rural areas.
But the resistance of state police could be a sticking point for some lawmakers, including the top House leader.
“It will be difficult to pass any legislation that doesn’t have the support of the Kentucky State Police and Kentucky’s law enforcement community,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “As long as they have reservations, I have reservations.”
Another potentially key player in the debate, Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, said the biggest impediments to hemp’s comeback are the federal ban on hemp and the concerns of state police.
But McKee, chairman of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, hasn’t yet staked out a position on the issue.
“We don’t want to close a door on any viable agricultural crop that is profitable and would be well-accepted,” he said.
Under Hornback’s bill, hemp growers would need licenses, and applicants would have to pass criminal background checks.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said he would seek a waiver from the federal ban on hemp for Kentucky if state lawmakers vote to legalize the crop. Paul also has pushed for federal legislation to remove restrictions on hemp cultivation. The Kentucky Republican said hemp supporters need to persuade law enforcement skeptics that the crop “won’t make the drug problem worse.”
“We live in a modern world where we have GPS,” he said in a recent speech in Frankfort. “Couldn’t a farmer or anybody who wants to grow it just get a simple one-page permit and say these are my GPS coordinates where it’s being grown and it could be checked?”
As for Comer, the agriculture commissioner has said he won’t defy the federal government on the issue.
The crop hasn’t been grown in the U.S. since the 1950s. Kentucky once was a leading producer of industrial hemp. During World War II, the U.S. government encouraged farmers to grow hemp for the war effort because other industrial fibers, often imported from overseas, were in short supply.
Because it can thrive in small, sloping plots, Comer said hemp could be a viable crop on marginal land in central and eastern Kentucky.
“A decade from now, someone will look back and think, ‘You mean there were people opposed to growing industrial hemp?’” he said.
By Michael Bomford
Hemp and flax have a lot in common. Both have a long history in Kentucky, but neither is grown in the Commonwealth today. Both can be used to make fiber for fabric and paper. Both are potential bioenergy crops. Both have seeds rich in nutritious fatty acids. Both are low-input crops, well-suited to organic production.
The key difference is that flax farming is legal in Kentucky; hemp farming is not. Perhaps because the federal government doesn’t allow hemp production, calls for its return are newsworthy. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer coasted to victory after calling for industrial hemp production in the Commonwealth. Two weeks ago, Kentucky’s House Agriculture and Small Business Committee held a hearing on two bills that would change state law to allow hemp production.
The General Assembly is unlikely to pass either bill in 2012, and even if it did, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA’s) interpretation of federal law would also have to change before Kentucky farms can grow hemp legally again. Hemp is Cannabis sativa, the same species as marijuana, but it contains just trace amounts of the psychoactive chemical found in the narcotic. Smoking it won’t make you high. Hemp production has been allowed under North Dakota state law since 1999, but the federal DEA has rejected all applications for permits to grow it commercially there, or in any of the other states that have followed North Dakota’s lead. While North Dakota farmers wait to be allowed to grow hemp, they lead the country in flax production.
Kentucky place names remind us of the historical importance of both hemp and flax in the Commonwealth. Hemp Ridge is near Shelbyville. Flax Branch is a stream in Floyd County, Flax Creek is in Lincoln County, and Flax Patch is in Knox County.
Cutting hemp near Lexington, Kentucky. Click image for source.
Hatchling flax in Kentucky. Click image for source.
In 1775, when hemp was first planted in Kentucky, most settlers already had a patch of flax to supply household needs. For almost a century, Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region was the center of the US hemp industry, which existed mainly to make fiber for ropes, sails, and paper. Flax continued to be widely grown throughout the state, too: By 1850, Kentucky grew about half of the nation’s hemp, and about a quarter of its flax. Farmers often grew the two crops in rotation, since both could be harvested and processed with the same equipment. Flax made a finer fiber, used for clothing; while hemp made a courser fiber, suitable for rope. Except in wartime, hemp prices were often below the cost of production, yet the crop’s ability to combat weeds made it a worthwhile addition to a rotation.
Kentucky’s hemp and flax industries both went into rapid decline in the late 1800s, due to competition from cheaper imported fibers like jute, manila, and sisal; falling costs of domestic cotton production; and the replacement of sailing ships with steamboats. By 1860, Missouri had replaced Kentucky as the nation’s largest hemp producer. Both hemp and flax had almost completely disappeared from the nation’s farms by the late 1940s. The last legal commercial hemp crop was harvested in Wisconsin in 1957. The DEA has prevented hemp from returning legally since then, but flax has made something of a come-back in the Dakotas, Montana, and Minnesota.
Canadian hemp is used to make organic hemp products for the US market, which are certified organic by the USDA.
Most of the hemp sold in the US today comes from Canada, where farmers have been allowed to grow the crop since 1998. Canada also grows more than twice as much flax as the USA. Canadian farmers are not making a lot of money from either crop: Net returns are in the neighborhood of $100 per acre. Most of the income from both hemp and flax production today comes from selling the nutritious seeds, which are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The useful fiber portion of the crop often goes unsold because fiber processors are few and far between, and transporting bulky straw is expensive. The economics look a little better for organic production, with substantial premiums available for organically-grown hemp and flax seeds and fibers.
Markets for hemp and flax have been volatile in recent years, with many growers losing money on both crops. Canadian hemp growers were hard hit in 1999, when a California processor contracted to purchase 40% of the hemp crop, then went bankrupt. It took seven years for the industry to recover, then acreage crashed again in 2007, due to a lack of fiber processors. Canadian flax growers were also hurt by a 2009 scandal that closed the European market to Canadian flax, after it was found to be contaminated with a genetically modified variety that had not been released for commercial production. Recent years have seen substantial declines in flax acreage on both sides of the border, as farmers dedicate more land to corn and soybeans, which generate far greater returns.
Lack of hemp processing facilities contributed to crashes in Canada’s nascent hemp industry in 1999 and 2007. Although growing hemp is legal in Canada, Canadian farmers planted more than twenty-five times as much land to flax in 2010. Source: Health Canada
A 1998 study by a University of Kentucky team of economists projected net returns of $120-$340 per acre for hemp production in Kentucky. It didn’t consider flax production, but the Canadian experience suggests that flax could offer similar returns. The authors note that Kentucky-based processing facilities would be needed for farmers to realize profits in the higher end of their projected range. Commissioner Comer wants these to be placed in economically-depressed areas of the state that used to depend on tobacco production. If there really is potential for a low-input, multi-use fiber and oilseed crop, like hemp, then why not experiment with flax? Processing facilities could be built for flax in the near term, and used for hemp, too, should it ever become legal again. The Canadian experience suggests that hemp may not live up to its advocates’ hype, but Kentucky doesn’t have to wait for the federal DEA to change its tune to re-introduce a similar once-prominent crop… flax.
2 Responses to “Feds Won’t Let You Grow Hemp? Try Flax.”
After posting my article, I came across a 2010 dissertation by UK doctoral student Watchareewan Jamboonsri that reports results of flax trials near Lexington, Kentucky, in 2006-08 (http://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1120&context=gradschool_diss, chapter 5).
Two of those years were drought years, and flax yields were very poor. Even in the best year, yield was only 75% of what might be expected in North Dakota or Canada. Jamboonsri concludes that flax is not well suited to Kentucky’s climate.
So why was flax such an important crop in Kentucky’s history? Did early settlers have varieties that were better adapted to Kentucky’s climate? Or was flax such a useful crop that they grew it here despite its poor performance?
Published: January 3, 2013
By Beverly Fortune — firstname.lastname@example.org
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer brought his pro-hemp message to the Lexington Forum on Thursday.
Since taking office in 2011, Comer has held town meetings in all 120 Kentucky counties, inviting local legislators to attend, to promote industrial hemp. In the early 19th century, Kentucky was the nation’s leading hemp producer.
Comer is backing a bill in the General Assembly that would permit industrial hemp to again be cultivated.
Hemp would produce income for farmers and create manufacturing jobs for products using hemp, he said.
Farmers growing hemp would have to be licensed by the state and their fields inspected regularly, Comer said.
The Department of Agriculture, the state’s largest regulatory agency, would oversee cultivation and sales of the crop.
Hemp is a sustainable, annual crop that “is easy and cheap to grow,” he said. “It grows well in this climate and requires very little fertilizer or insecticides.” The plant grows best in marginal soils found in many Central and Eastern Kentucky counties.
For people, including law enforcement officers, who are concerned that marijuana might be grown in hemp fields and the hemp and marijuana plants confused, Comer said the two look completely different.
Marijuana is a short, bushy plant with lots of leaves; industrial hemp is tall, with a thick stalk and few leaves.
When grown near each other, hemp and marijuana cross-pollinate, and the hemp destroys buds on the marijuana plants, he said. “Industrial hemp is an enemy of marijuana,” Comer said. “Law enforcement should be for industrial hemp.”
The long-dormant Industrial Hemp Commission, revived under Comer, has contracted with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture to conduct an economic-impact study.
For the crop to be grown successfully, there has to be a market for the fibers, Comer said. “Many products we make from plastic, like car dashboards, armrests, carpet and fabrics, are made from hemp in other countries. Hemp is also used to make paper.”
Comer said one major benefit of growing hemp would be the manufacturing jobs created to produce items using hemp fibers, seed and oil.
“The United States is the only industrial country in the world that doesn’t allow industrial hemp to be grown, yet many products Americans buy have hemp as an ingredient,” he said. Hemp is legally grown in Canada and China, and throughout Europe.
If the General Assembly approves growing industrial hemp, the federal government would have to lift restrictions before it could be grown. “I want us to be ready when the federal government gives the go-ahead. I’m convinced they’re going to do that,” Comer said.
Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.
House Bill 1831, which was introduced last year by Texas Republican Ron Paul and a coalition of 25 co-sponsors, and SB 3501, introduced this August in the Senate by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and three co-sponsors, would exclude low potency varieties of marijuana from federal prohibition. If approved, this measure will grant state legislatures the authority to license and regulate the commercial production of hemp as an industrial and agricultural commodity. Several states — including North Dakota, Montana, and Vermont — have enacted regulations to allow for the cultivation of hemp under state law. However, none of these laws can be implemented without federal approval. Passage of HR 1831 would remove existing federal barriers and allow states that wish to regulate commercial hemp production the authority to do so.
Vote Hemp President, Eric Steenstra stated, “It is due time for the Senate as well as President Obama and the Attorney General to prioritize the crop’s benefits to farmers and to take action like Rep. Paul and the cosponsors of H.R. 1831 have done. With the U.S. hemp industry valued at over $400 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal policy to allow hemp farming would mean instant job creation, among many other economic and environmental benefits.”
According to a 2010 Congressional Resource Service report, “approximately 30 countries in Europe, Asia, and North and South America currently permit farmers to grow hemp.” But the United States does not. As a result, U.S. companies that specialize in hempen goods have no choice but to import hemp material. These added production costs are then passed on to the consumer who must pay artificially high retail prices for hemp products.
Previous versions of The Industrial Hemp Farming Act have been introduced in the House, but failed to receive a public hearing or a committee vote. This is the first year the issue has ever been introduced in the Senate. Please write your members of Congress today and tell them to end the federal prohibition of industrial hemp production. For your convenience, a prewritten letter will be e-mailed to your member of Congress when you enter your contact information below. For more information about industrial hemp, please visit: http://www.votehemp.org.