Last updated: September 24. 2013 11:51AM - 1047 Views

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A story published recently in the Lexington Herald-Leader asks how much demand will there be for industrial hemp, a plant for which the state could soon begin issuing licenses to grow.

While the question is an interesting one, and the answer even more so as a University of Kentucky study found the potential for hemp in Kentucky a limited one in the short term, we wonder if that question even matters at this point in Eastern Kentucky.

Currently, there is no legal market for the domestic cultivation and processing of hemp because for the past several decades the federal government has banned its cultivation even as countries like Canada are growing 60,000 acres worth of hemp and shipping some of their product to the U.S. From this point, the market has no where to go but up.

Certainly, we’ll need to build a market for hemp in Kentucky. Here in Eastern Kentucky, we’ll need to build a market for just about everything in terms of agriculture, so hemp is simply another spoke in that wheel.

In truth, there is no shortage of reasons as to why we should be building a much more robust agriculture economy in Eastern Kentucky. Put simply, there exists a need for it.

The United Nations recently warned of a potential global food shortage that could be triggered by a severe weather incident in the U.S. or other major exporting nation. Kentucky specifically is ranked in the bottom five in the nation in terms of food insecurity due in part to a lack of access to enough food to live a healthy lifestyle. A study in 2010 found that more than half a million Kentuckians were in need of food.

In Eastern Kentucky we have a lot of flat land left over from mining operations, and sites like David Duff’s ranch on the former Pine Branch Coal Sales operation in Chavies is a prime example of potential land use after mining, where thick, green stands of grass are grown on which cattle graze daily.

Why can’t this be a model for other sites here in Eastern Kentucky? With some work, these reclaimed strip mines can be transformed into agricultural hot spots and help supplement the nation’s food supply, or in the case of hemp, provide a myriad of products from textiles to cooking oil.

Perhaps as important, it could provide a more diverse local economy, and that means jobs for the people of Eastern Kentucky. In the Eastern Coalfields, unemployment has topped an average of over 10 percent, with Perry County reaching 14 percent earlier this year.

The potential for a hemp economy may not be as bright as some lawmakers hope, but there is a potential in Eastern Kentucky for agriculture and hemp can and should play a part. It is a regional potential which our leaders, including Commissioner Comer, should be working to develop.

— The Hazard Herald

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