Frankfort, Kentucky — Let’s hear it for Midway College in Woodford County.
The college sponsored a conference November 17 on the future of industrial hemp in Kentucky — and the nation’s — agricultural economy. There were all sorts of exhibits of products that can be manufactured using industrial hemp, in this case hemp grown legally in Canada. Industrial hemp cannot be grown legally in the United States because the plant is a distant relative of marijuana.
And the Midway conference was not a Gatewood Galbraith sort of affair with Willy Nelson strumming along. Former Republican Governor Louie B. Nunn — hardly the hippie sort — attended. The featured speaker was a Republican legislator from Hawaii who sponsored successful legislation in that state to permit test crops of industrial hemp to be grown as a source of ethanol production.
The legislation in Hawaii was successful because the state’s sugar cane industry has gone to the dogs as a result of competition from cheap Asian sugar.
More than 50 years ago, Kentucky was one of the major sources of industrial hemp that was used to make rope and other essentials during the Second World War. Climate’s right. Soil’s fine. Industrial hemp is easy to grow, is incredibly hardy, and fiber from its stalks is used in everything from clothing to cosmetics. And you could smoke a ton of it and not get high.
But politicians in Kentucky — and elsewhere — hide from the issue of legalizing production of industrial hemp, even legalizing university studies of the agricultural potential from legalizing industrial hemp. A bill that would have allowed such studies failed to pass the General Assembly early this year.
Instead of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture holding seminars and conferences on hemp’s potential to help Kentucky farmers, Midway College leads the way. Rather than devoting some of the millions UK is pocketing in state bucks for brains funding on a subject of enormous potential to help tobacco farmers survive, Midway College brings in the experts and sponsors the conference.
Good for Midway. At least on one college campus in Kentucky, people are looking to the future and thinking beyond the next slash in the burley tobacco quota.
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