‘Enter hemp with extreme caution,’ Kentucky farmer tells Senate panel

Agriculture Committee hears about the lows induced by hemp production

By Ellyn Ferguson | Roll Call

 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he hopes a new generation of Kentucky farmers finds hemp just as lucrative a crop as tobacco once was. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Farmers facing low prices and mired in trade uncertainty see hemp as the next big cash crop, but a Kentucky veteran of six hemp harvests warned it’s a demanding plant to produce.

“Enter hemp with extreme caution,” Brian Furnish told the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday.

Furnish and his brothers started raising hemp under a provision Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got included in the 2014 farm bill. The provision allowed states to approve pilot programs under strict control because at the time hemp fell under the Controlled Substances Act along with its cousin, marijuana. Hemp was treated the same as marijuana although it has a lower concentration of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

In those years, Furnish said he’s dealt with weeds overtaking his hemp plants, limited options for seed that does well in Kentucky and the trial and error of figuring out the best time to put hemp seed in the ground. He told the committee in the early years he once replanted a hemp field seven times before he got plants. Furnish said Kentucky acreage planted to hemp has grown from 33 in 2014 to 60,000 today.

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