Advocates raise a glass to future of Kentucky's hemp industry at Lexington celebration

Published: Jan. 12, 2019 at 11:19 PM EST
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Advocates of Kentucky's hemp industry gathered Saturday at Rock House Brewing, 119 Luigart Ave. in Lexington, for a victory celebration of last year's farm bill.

The bill, signed by President Trump last month, removed hemp from the list of controlled substances under federal law.

The event was put on by Kentucky Hempsters, a group that aims to "re-ignite the Kentucky hemp industry through education, outreach, and creative content."

Kentucky Hempsters co-founder Kirsten Bohnert said the bill represents a new opportunity for Kentucky farmers to save their small farms and to diversify their crops.

"The most important thing it does is it gives farmers peace of mind. It allows them to get protection for their crops - that includes insurance, and before this bill was passed, they weren't allowed to do anything of the sort," Bohnert said.

Vendors at the event showcased a variety of hemp-derived wares: everything from CBD oil to pet bedding to building materials.

Attendees could even sample some hemp-infused beers.

"It's delicious. It's very earthy, nutty, it's a really nice, easy drinking brown ale," Carmen Ross said.

Kentucky's hemp industry has exploded in recent years, with 6,700 acres planted last year.

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, who attended Saturday's event, said passage of the farm bill means state hemp production can now move from research pilot program to full-scale commercialization.

"The past five years, we've learned a lot of things. We've learned that Kentucky is a natural home for industrial hemp, we have natural clusters of processing here, both for fiber, seed, and CBD production, and now that it's a legalized product, we are going to be working with our farmers and working with our processors to create jobs," Quarles said.

Quarles said he expects the number of Kentucky farmers growing hemp to increase by nearly 400 percent in 2019.

Additionally, Quarles said there were more than 70 companies processing industrial hemp in 2018. He expects that number to increase to more than 115 in 2019.