In October of last year, the Guide to the Bluegrass published an article highlighting Kentucky’s rise to national prominence as a leader in the hemp industry. This rise began with the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, creating the state’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA). Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles stated with the creation of the hemp research program that the goal of the initiative “is to position the Commonwealth’s growers and processors to ultimately prevail as national leaders in industrial hemp production.”2018 ended with the passage of another Farm Bill, also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, making hemp an ordinary agricultural commodity. The goal of this article is to highlight the status of Kentucky’s hemp industry in 2019, in light of these policy changes.
In 2018, a clear resurrection had occurred in Kentucky’s hemp industry with licenses being awarded to over 200 growers, 72 processors, and 16,100 outdoor acres approved. These are compared to 2014’s 20 growers and 9 processors. Today, total licensed growers in the state has increased 385% to a staggering 969 and total licensed processors has increased 56% to 112. Behind this massive growth in Kentucky’s growers and processors is 56,000 approved acres for cultivation, a 248% rise from 2018. Additionally, Kentucky has approved over 6 million square feet of greenhouse hemp production.
All the signs point to Kentucky establishing itself as a national leader in industrial hemp production. This comes at no surprise to those that know Kentucky’s history with the plant. A unique history that includes the founder of one of their largest, automotive companies, Henry Ford, dreaming of creating a plastic car “which ran on hemp and other plant-based fuels, and whose fenders were made of hemp and other materials”.
As the Commonwealth solidifies its expertise in the industry, expanding and relocating hemp businesses must now answer the question “Where is the best place in Kentucky for hemp companies?”. The answer is the Bluegrass Region. The Bluegrass Region is a name for Commerce Lexington Economic Development’s marketing territory. It’s made up of eight counties including Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Franklin, Jessamine, Madison, Scott, and Woodford. Another way of explaining the region is that it’s the Lexington-Fayette Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) plus Franklin and Madison Counties.
The Bluegrass Region is the top destination in Kentucky for hemp businesses for many reasons. Out of the 112 total processors in the state, 64 (57%) of them are located in the three major metropolitan areas of Central Kentucky (CKY), Lexington-Fayette, Louisville/Jefferson County, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. The Bluegrass Region, containing the Lexington-Fayette MSA, has 34 processors compared to Louisville and Cincinnati’s 20 and 10 respectively. Not only does the Bluegrass lead the way in hemp processing, the area also consists of 110 licensed growers which is the most in Central Kentucky.
The biggest advantage hemp companies gain by locating in the Bluegrass Region is proximity to the state’s flagship university, the University of Kentucky (UK). UK is and has been leading the charge in developing hemp research that includes clinical trials to inform the creation of industry best-practices. In 2019, UK has 5 official hemp projects as recorded by the KDA. Beyond UK in Fayette County, Franklin County is home to Kentucky State University which also has one project affiliation according to the KDA. Overall, the Bluegrass Region is home to six of the nine university affiliates across the state, giving businesses located in the area access to a unique competitive advantage. For more information on hemp operations across the state, see the “Kentucky Hemp Operations” dashboard below.
Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Commonwealth has worked hard to establish itself as a national leader in the hemp industry. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Kentucky received another surge of hemp growth. In 2019, Commissioner Quarles’ goal for the state has been achieved, and, within Kentucky, the Bluegrass Region has risen to the top as the state leader in the hemp industry, making it the best destination for expanding and relocating hemp businesses. Hemp businesses grow best in the Bluegrass.