Notes from the Second University of Kentucky Hemp Day

By Dan Isenstein

The University of Kentucky hosted its second ever “Hemp Day” August 11, 2016 at the Coldstream Research facility, just outside of Lexington, KY.  The UK event is the third such academic event this season, with previous hemp days being conducted at both Western Kentucky and Murray State Universities. 

The event started with coffee and donuts along with some brief words from various researchers and participants involved in the hemp pilot program.  There are also a few tables with displays detailing uses of hemp and various student research projects.   From there attendees were divided into two groups.

Our group boarded the hay ride out to the field and from the moment the tractors pull up to the hemp fields you could tell this year’s crop looked much healthier and robust than last year.  One thing all the presenters at the event could agree upon was the positive impact getting the crop planted on time had over last year.  This can be directly attributed to some of the kinks being worked out with seed acquisition in the pilot program.  This year, farmers and researchers were able to get their permits and seed purchases approved sooner and seed was sown during optimal planting season.

Our group breaks up even further as we given presentations about 3 different research projects.  Two of the hemp plots are experiments being conducted by the University of Kentucky and one is a project by Western Kentucky University.  Paul Woosley, a professor at WKU explains that much of his research is focused on preventing weeds and seeing which herbicides work best in this capacity in hemp fields.  They are primarily using European strains of hemp.  A common refrain from all the researchers is if the canopy of the hemp can get out over the weeds; then the weeds have a tough time getting started.

One of the researchers whose project attracts the most attention is Leah Black, a graduate student at the University of Kentucky.  Leah is researching the effects different planting variables have on cannabinoid production in specific varieties of hemp.  Answering a question about her research, Leah observed that there has developed a “gold rush mentality” regarding CBD.  Being more of a business person than a scientist I immediately latched onto that analogy.  People look at the price per gram and start “doing the math”, ignorant of the laws of supply and demand.  Trust me, you are not the only person with a calculator working on a new extraction method. 

Lunch is served after we view the “group 2” exhibits. I strike up a conversation with a woman from Auburn, Alabama who mentored Leah as an undergraduate.  Leah joins us along with a couple of women involved in the Kentucky heirloom hemp program at Kentucky State University.  The irony does not escape us.  Chunks of this research is attempting to validate what has already been done by underground growers and breeders or attempting to replicate knowledge that was lost generations ago when the government decided to wage war on a plant.

In the span of a few short hours at hemp day I have discussed papermaking, textile production, livestock feed and bedding and medical applications all from a plant that is still strictly controlled.  My research leads me to conclude that we have to take the restraints off and let capitalism decide if this plant is a viable crop or not.

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