Industrial hemp could be another growing source of revenue in Kentucky.
Alongside four other universities, Murray State has been selected by the Department of Agriculture to pilot projects concerning the product.
On Feb. 14, President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill, which contained Kentucky Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul’s amendment to allow states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law to do so.
Prior to this signing, Kentucky joined 32 other states last April by passing pro-hemp legislation, legalizing hemp production in the Commonwealth.
Since that time, senators McConnell and Paul have pushed federal legislation by petitioning the Drug Enforcement Administration to allow Kentucky to grow hemp. Growing the crop, although removed of its psychoactive agent, is still considered a federal crime.
Now, Murray State, Kentucky State University, the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University have been charged with examining, testing and planting test hemp crops to study their ability to remove environmental toxins, as renewable energy and in medical research among other uses.
Murray State specifically will oversee the study of the hemp fiber.
Tony Brannon, Dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture, said he is pleased Murray State was selected to be involved in the pilot hemp research trials in Kentucky.
He said since discussion of allowing the cultivation of hemp in Kentucky’s institutions of higher learning and state departments began, he and Murray State had been in contact with the KDA and Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer.
Brannon said pioneering pilot hemp research is in line with the Hutson School of Agriculture’s mission.
He said he also recognizes the school’s important mission to enhance the agricultural, educational and economic opportunities for the farmers and people of the service region.
“As part of our West Kentucky AgBioworks initiative, one of our objectives is to identify, study and conduct initial trials of alternative niche crops that capitalize on Kentucky’s unique capabilities for growing and handling specialized crops,” he said.
Brannon also cited Murray State’s recent endeavors through the BioEnergy Demonstration Center researching new crop opportunities on the University farms such as energy beets, sweet sorghum, energy sorghum, miscanthus, switch grass and kenaf, as precedent for their involvement in this project.
He said there is much more planning to be done before the research program can begin and he expects the KDA to begin holding meetings with all partners in the next month to finalize all the details by the end of March.
All universities are scheduled to begin their given projects on March 31.
This pilot project will be the state’s first legal hemp production in more than 50 years. Each project will be paid for through private contributions, according to the bill.
Story by Ben Manhanke, Assistant News Editor