Local growers interested in hemp are urged to keep an eye out for applications on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture website.

Austin Wright, a small farms agent with Kentucky State University who is working in Christian County, said the applications for growers' licenses for Kentucky's industrial hemp program will be available in October once the process of reviewing the applications is complete.

He said Doris Hamilton, the industrial hemp program manager, is coordinating a review of the applications, and any growers interested in the program will have to wait until the review is complete.

The applications will then be available on the state website at kyagr.com, and Wright emphasized that growers must follow Kentucky Department of Agriculture guidelines when completing them.

He also urged the growers to start the process as early as possible once they see the application available on the website.

The earlier you start, the better, noted Wright, who said he expects that the number of hemp growers will increase this year.

"I'm sure it's going to go up," he predicted of local farmers' interest in the industrial hemp crop. "I think more people will be applying."

Wright noted that his university has some grants available to assist farmers, i.e., its small-scale farm grants and a grant for small-scale farmers through the university's Farmer Education Program.

Information on those grants is available on the school website at kysu.edu. Search "small-scale farm grants in the search bar at the top.

Wright said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is still not providing assistance with hemp crops. A recent update from the USDA Farm Service Agency said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is "on track to issue rules regarding industrial hemp production" in the fall.

Those rules will be well in advance of the 2020 production season.

Further, the update advised that income from previous years' hemp crops may not be used to demonstrate cash flow for direct or guaranteed loan applications, and the FSA may not issue loans for production of industrial hemp for the 2019 season yet to be planted.

Officials said the FSA, or Farm Service Agency, continues to operate under 2014 Farm Bill rules which don't include hemp as an industrial crop, and the agency will operate under those rules until regulations under the 2018 Farm Bill for industrial hemp are promulgated.

They also noted that a section of the 2018 Farm Bill directs USDA to issue regulations and guidance to implement a program for the commercial production of industrial hemp in the United States.

Although those regulations haven't been issued to date, the agency said it anticipates having them in place by the 2020 planting season.

For the 2019 season, the 2018 bill allows for states, tribes and institutions of higher education to continue operating under authorities of the 2014 Farm Bill which don't permit approval of loan applications.

For more information about the USDA and the commercial production of hemp, send questions and requests to farmbill.hemp@usda.gov.

Wright said he's pleased to see that growers are looking at alternative crops and that they are having success with those crops.

"If they make more money than where they have been before, then absolutely I'm happy," he said.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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