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February 18, 2014

Appalachia Proud launched

Hemp included in economic announcement

LEBURN —  Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer was joined by U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in Knott County Monday to announce a a new initiative aimed at growing eastern Kentucky’s economy through agriculture.

    Appalachia Proud: Mountains of Potential is a trademarked brand that designates Kentucky Proud products in 37 counties, including McCreary which netted $1.054 million in farm cash receipts in 2010 according to the initiative’s action plan.

    “This idea was inspired by two years of travel all across Eastern Kentucky and countless conversations with farmers, agribusiness owners, and other local business leaders throughout the region,” Commissioner Comer stated. “What became abundantly clear is that Appalachia is a special place with untapped potential, particularly in the areas of agriculture, food production, and agritourism.”

    In addition to promoting the region’s fruits, vegetables, honey, meats, etc. through the Appalachia Proud brand, Comer is also recommending:

    • A tourism center featuring the region’s food, arts and crafts, and wildlife ranging from elks to birds. It would include a concert venue. Several reclaimed mine sites have been identified for a potential location.

    • Encouraging colleges and universities to develop niche agricultural products.

    • Seeking legislation to return 100 percent of coal severance tax dollars to coal-producing counties and dedicating 15 percent of those funds to agricultural development.

    • Seeking to lower taxes and reduce regulatory burdens to help struggling economies.

    But perhaps the most buzz-worthy part of the action plan was Comer’s announcement of five pilot projects to gauge the potential of industrial hemp.

    "Hemp will go into the ground in Kentucky for the first time since World War II this year," Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said.

    Hemp's reintroduction will have a statewide reach, with test plots expected to be planted this spring from Appalachia to the western Kentucky grain belt. Hemp cultivation will be tied to research at Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, University of Louisville, Murray State University and University of Kentucky.

    "We hope these pilot projects prove that it actually does have a future," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who along with his Kentucky colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, played key roles in pushing for hemp's reintroduction.

    For now, farmers will donate their hemp harvest for research, but Comer is trying to turn it into a money maker for growers.

    The Republican agriculture commissioner is teaming with Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway in seeking a federal waiver allowing for the expansion of hemp production for commercial purposes. The waiver is being sought from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

    The new federal farm bill allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states that already allow the growing of hemp. Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation last year that allowed hemp to be reintroduced, but only if the federal government allows its production.

    Rockcastle County farmer Michael Lewis said Monday he's ready to jump into experimental production to help determine how to "fit this crop back into the family farm." He's got room to plant 50 to 100 acres of hemp, but said the size of his first crop will depend on access to seeds.

    Lewis said he was confident hemp will take root as a viable crop in Kentucky.

    "Absolutely it's going to work," he said. "It worked 80 years ago."

    Lewis is an Army veteran who participates in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Homegrown by Heroes program along with McCreary veteran Larry King.

    King also attended Monday’s launch and expects to learn more this week about the pilot project affiliated with Kentucky State University and Homegrown by Heroes. According to the action plan, that particular project will study the cultivation of Kentucky heirloom hemp seed.

    Hemp production was banned decades ago when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa. Hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

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