In some ways, Kentucky is a surprising place to see a hemp boom. Conservative lobbyists in the state have consistently resisted legalization measures for related plants, despite the wider growth of the industry. Given the “thin end of the wedge” arguments wielded against drug reform, the hemp industry might have expected to face a cold response in the state.
Yet the state’s hemp sector has deep roots. During the 19th century, Kentucky was the largest producer of hemp in the United States, producing three-quarters of the nation’s hemp fiber. As hemp production went into decline following the First World War, tobacco took its place as a major cash crop for the state. However, tobacco now faces challenges of its own. With hemp production made legal on a federal level for the first time in nearly half a century, Kentucky has once again emerged as the country’s leading manufacturer.
The Kentucky hemp industry is already turning into a large and diverse one, driven by two separate trends. One is the need of farmers for new crops, as declining tobacco sales and the pressure of trade wars impact their profits. The other is the emergence of companies with a focus on hemp and related crops, such as Sugarmade. These companies provide specialist tools and invaluable knowledge, while the farmers bring decades of experience growing crops in the region. Old and new knowledge combine to build a booming industry.
Looking to buoy up the economic health of their state, Representative James Comer and Senator Mitch McConnell have pushed the hemp agenda at a national level, creating the space for Kentucky’s hemp industry to thrive. McConnell has been particularly crucial, using his position as majority leader to advocate for hemp reform, including publicly reinforcing his support for the industry through a tour of the state with Sonny Perdue, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). With this growing federal support, Kentucky hemp growers appear to be making long-term investments, confident that politicians will ensure a friendly business climate.
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