Story by Lauren Epperson, Contributing writer
By late May, Murray State agriculture students still were awaiting the arrival of the key ingredient to their summer hemp-growing program: the seeds.
Getting them to Murray took two more months, attempted shipments from two countries, a pair of bureaucratic paperwork snafus and two of the largest delivery companies in the world.
“There were significant problems with this year’s seeds,” said Tony Brannon, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture.
As a result, this fall’s hemp harvest – the second since the federal government allowed Kentucky universities to grow the crop – won’t be a big one, Brannon said.
“We will probably harvest the full two acres,” he said. “It will not be high yielding, but we will try to harvest all of it.”
Murray State’s agriculture students harvested their first crop last year in late October. But Brannon said college officials haven’t decided when that will be this fall or what they will do with the crop once it’s harvested.
Just getting it to Murray was a logistical miracle.
Sixty tons of seeds left Germany and arrived in Chicago without a key piece of customs paperwork. The seed company, which forgot the seeds’ certification form, paid to ship the 60 tons back to Germany.
Plan B was to receive a different shipment from Canada. FedEx picked up those seeds and brought them to Louisville only to realize FedEx policies prevented them from delivering any hemp seeds, Brannon said.
That hemp went back to Canada, only to be picked up by UPS and returned to Louisville. Upon arrival, U.S. Customs agents seized them and placed them under embargo at the UPS processing and packaging center for another two weeks before the seeds finally reached Murray State.
Murray State’s Department of Agriculture partnered with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, U.S. Hemp Oil and CannaVest this summer to raise and conduct research on hemp for the second time. Murray State became the first university to plant a legal industrial hemp crop in the nation in the spring of 2014.
“It’s been an exciting project,” Brannon said. “Our mission is to provide opportunities for regional agriculture, and if it’s an opportunity for regional agriculture, we want to be a part of it.”
Kentucky was the leading hemp-producing state in the United States until it was outlawed by federal legislation in 1938.
The National Council of State Legislatures has stated that the federal government classifies hemp as an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act because it contains trace amounts of the same hallucinogen found in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC).
Hemp production was legalized for research purposes at registered state universities when the Agricultural Act of 2014 was signed into law in February, 2014.
Although Murray State was the first university to plant hemp for research, it is not the only university. The University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University also have conducted pilot programs concerning hemp.
“I think it’s really cool that we’re one of the only universities in the state that is allowed to conduct this type of research and I hope that we are able to continue in the future with this agricultural pursuit,” said Sarah Luckett, sophomore from Beechmont, Kentucky.
Murray State’s most recent crop, planted July 12, has reached an average height of three to four feet. Murray State’s Department of Agriculture has not yet set a date to harvest the crop or decided how that process will be conducted.
Adam Watson, industrial hemp program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said that he expects the pilot programs to continue and further research to be conducted.
“I think it’s good that our school is able to conduct relevant, respectable and legal research about this issue,” said Chris Albers, junior from Breese, Illinois.