Skyrocketing hemp production in Kentucky leaves industry excited, but cautious

Published: Dec. 5, 2019 at 5:33 AM EST
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Since its legalization, hemp production in Kentucky has skyrocketed.

Some business owners are telling stories of great success, but people are also growing cautious.

That was part of the message speakers delivered in a room lit like an emerald at the Kentucky Expo Center on Wednesday.

The green rush filled it with people from all walks of life eager to learn about the industry at the Kentucky Hemp Summit.

“A few years ago, we started out with 33 acres in the ground,” Sean Southard, who works for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said. “This year alone, we had more than 26,000 acres.”

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has seen a huge increase in hemp production, and people from across the commonwealth are getting in on it.

“Business is good,” John Taylor, the owner of Commonwealth Extracts, said. “In fact, there’s more business than we can handle.”

The number of processors and offshoot products is growing, too.

“These areas here are soil particles,” Justin Clark, who runs C&C Ag Solutions, said, regarding the microbial research he’s done on plant fertility.

Since the excitement that came with legalization in the 2018 Farm Bill, some have noticed some first-year hiccups.

“Lots of surprises,” Clark said. “There was a big learning curve this time.”

Some growers have cautioned that the large number of people growing hemp is making the market tougher to succeed in.

“It helps us, it hurts our farmers, because it drives our prices down,” said Taylor, who is a processor.

Taylor is involved with hemp from farm to finished goods.

“I was having seizures personally,” Taylor said. “I learned how to make CBD oil in Oregon and I stopped having seizures.”

He said the primary challenges he faces involve unstable federal regulations. Agriculture Department officials said rules around hemp producers and banking are still being figured out.

The FDA recently cautioned people that CBD hasn’t been generally recognized as safe yet.

So, after the crop’s first year in a legal market, the general message to those looking to buy in is to be careful, and make sure you know what you’re doing.

“Try to do your due diligence and make sure you have a place to go with your product,” Clark said.

Despite the challenges, Taylor said he still sees a lot of upside and potential for growth in the hemp and CBD market.

“Go slow,” Taylor said. “Don’t get too deep in the process that you can’t get out of it.”

The state’s 2020 hemp crop program is currently open for applications.