What led you to choose hemp as a crop?
I chose to pursue Industrial Hemp because of the long history of hemp in Kentucky. I teamed up with two local farmers to grow hemp on their properties, as an educational experiment for us, as well as for the numerous students and volunteers who came out to help in the fields. Last year’s crop was very much an experiment in the most simple of terms. Would we be able to grow hemp without any issues? Would we be able to market it successfully? Would our farmers be able to turn a profit? Not all of these questions were answered last year, but we certainly were able to get a great deal of experience, marketing, and networking under our belts. This year, we hope to take that experience and convert that into a successful and profitable crop for our farmers.
What varieties and how many acres of hemp did you grow in 2014?
Here in Christian County, KY we grew three Italian varieties of hemp in two different areas of the county. In the Northern end of the county we grew a half-acre of Carmagnola and in the Southern end of the county we grew approximately one acre with two varieties, Fibranova and Carma 334.
What soil and environmental conditions did you grow in?
In North Christian, the soil is less fertile, and erosion is a major problem. We fertilized with llama manure, which worked quite well, but the environmental conditions were impossible to overcome. Only a few days after planting, we had tornado weather sweep the area, with 4.5 inches of rain in a matter of a few hours. This washed away some of the new crop. After the storm, we had a drought and did not have a drop of water for two months. Sadly, the crop barely survived. On the South Christian crop, the soil was more fertile, and had been prepared for tobacco, so it had the best conventional fertilization program available. The weather was better, but the drought conditions were still present. Irrigation and some rainfall were able to keep the crop healthy and strong, and we had a very lush and successful crop.
Did you grow in conjunction with an institution of higher learning?
We did not. This crop was grown under the auspices of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
As this was a pilot crop, what qualities were you testing?
We wanted to test the possibilities of using hemp for construction materials. For this reason we chose to grow Italian fiber cultivars, for their long strong fibers, and large amount of hurd.
Were you able to utilize your 2014 crop? How?
Our crop is still waiting to be processed by G.F. Vaughan Tobacco in Lexington. We hope to receive the finished product soon, and will use the materials to make home insulation, as well as hemp concrete. We did harvest the roots from the crop and used them immediately to make a handcrafted salve that has shown to be fantastic for aches, pains, skin conditions and more.
What varieties and how many acres of hemp will you grow in 2015?
We are looking at 8 possible cultivars to bring in from other countries. We have requested up to 100 acres for this year’s pilot project, and hope to be approved for that amount within a few days.
Are the soil and environmental conditions expected to be the same?
We certainly hope that the environmental conditions are better this year. Having a tornado followed by a drought was a pretty tough on our crop, and we hope that this year’s weather will be less harsh. However, we are prepared to irrigate, and I suppose the best we can do to prevent tornadoes is to say a prayer and keep our fingers crossed. Soil conditions will be similar, and we intend to fertilize and irrigate well, so we hope this year’s crop will yield far more than last year.
Will you grow in conjunction with an institution of higher learning this year?
Once again we are growing for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. We don’t have a university directly in our backyard, but we are the largest agricultural county in the state, so we hope to bring the added value of seasoned, highly experienced farmers to the table.
Will this be a pilot crop? What qualities will you test?
This will be a pilot crop. We are growing for different reasons this year, to harvest and sell all parts of the plant. We will plant and harvest by implement this year. Last year we did a lot of harvesting by hand using volunteer labor, which is not a viable business plan for a farmer. We will harvest via combine, and hope to end up with a finished product that is ready to hit store shelves this year.
What is the planned use for your 2015 crop?
We will harvest seed for grain, as well as for seed banking, or for selling as production seed. We plan on utilizing every portion of the plant, and we have found a great deal of interest in purchasing the raw materials for several uses, including nutraceuticals. This year, we may even have an opportunity to produce some textiles from our stalk and fiber. I will continue to harvest the roots for topical salves, and we will have not only raw materials, but finished products available for sale.
What has been your biggest success(es) in farming hemp to date?
Our biggest success has not happened yet. While we have had many successful trials and crops in the state of Kentucky overall, our biggest success will be opening up hemp farming to all Americans. For that, we need help from hemp enthusiasts in all 50 states. We must contact our Congressional leaders and ask them to sign on as cosponsors for H.R. 525 and S. 134. When we pass that bill and it obtains the President’s signature, we will have accomplished the greatest goal possible for hemp farming. We will have brought this patriotic crop back to all American farmers!