McConnell: Kentucky Leads on Industrial Hemp
Kentucky’s farmers are among the best in the world. It’s no surprise agriculture leaders from around the country are looking to the Bluegrass State and our prospering hemp industry. Right now, hemp is growing in 101 of our 120 counties and $100 million worth of Kentucky grown and processed hemp products are expected to be sold this year alone.
Our Commonwealth is proud of our long history with this versatile crop, and it’s been my privilege to lead the federal effort to chart its future. My bills—first to establish pilot programs in the 2014 farm bill and second to fully legalize hemp last year—are opening new doors for hemp. With Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and his predecessor, now-U.S. Congressman James Comer, we’re helping Kentucky lead the nation with hemp once again.
This summer, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue accepted my invitation to visit Kentucky and see this amazing success firsthand. Together with Commissioner Quarles, we traveled around the state to showcase the commodity’s great potential.
In Lexington, we visited the UK College of Agriculture’s research and teaching farm, where talented researchers are pushing the limits of what this plant can do. Their experimental trials aim to improve the crop’s viability and develop the best practices for farming. We discussed what hemp growers need to continue this new market’s upward trajectory. For example, too much hemp is lost to pests and weeds, and access to certain herbicides and pesticides can help protect crops.
Many aspiring hemp farmers continue to tell me about the need for crop insurance—a common tool for farmers to prepare for the possibility of severe weather or other natural disasters. Recently, President Trump signed into law my provision to ensure USDA offers coverage for hemp through whole farm revenue policies next growing season. These policies will serve as a bridge until individual hemp policies can be developed and approved, as we paved the way for in the 2018 farm bill.
At Commonwealth Extracts, a Louisville processing facility, we saw the production of hemp-derived CBD products up close. Through a similar process to bourbon distillation, this facility taps into hemp’s natural qualities for use in a wide range of health and wellness products. Although the 2018 farm bill removed CBD and other hemp-derived products from the controlled substances list, CBD processors and manufacturers still operate in a regulatory gray area without guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In June, I met with the acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner in my U.S. Capitol office to talk about some of these ongoing challenges. I explained Congress’ intent in legalizing hemp and urged him to work with me to provide certainty to producers across the country exploring hemp’s potential in health and food products.
During these visits, we also discussed the importance of financial services like credit card payment processing. Earlier this year, I contacted federal and state financial regulators as well as many banking institutions to encourage them to end the discrimination against hemp businesses. And thankfully, we are seeing some progress from Kentucky’s community financial institutions. Unfortunately, several large financial institutions are refusing to recognize hemp’s legality and making it harder for retailers to reach customers and grow their operations. I will continue to reiterate the new federal law and Congressional intent with these financial institutions. Whatever obstacles Kentucky hemp farmers, processors and manufacturers might encounter as they try to take full advantage of this hemp revolution, I’ll be there to help in any way I can.
Secretary Perdue and I also joined the Kentucky Farm Bureau in Shelbyville to discuss many issues facing Kentucky’s diverse agricultural communities. It seems like Kentucky hemp is making headline news every day. Just recently, a global outdoor business, which had previously sourced all of its hemp products from China, signed an agreement with a Kentucky hemp farmer. Now, fibers grown in Paris, Kentucky will be used in a major brand’s products. Even better, that global business is interested in working with more Kentucky hemp farmers in the future.
I’m thankful Secretary Perdue visited Kentucky to see our remarkable progress firsthand, and I’ll continue working with the USDA and other government agencies to provide Kentucky’s farmers with the support they need.
Mitch McConnell is a Republican and Kentucky's senior U.S. Senator. He serves as the Senate Majority Leader.