Austin Wright is excited.

The event he's planned for hemp farmers this year is one for the books, he said.

"This is a big (deal)," observed Wright, a Kentucky State University small farms agent who is working in Christian County, of the upcoming Western Kentucky Hemp Conference. "It will affect our economy in Christian County big time. It will affect the economy for the whole western part of the state."

Slated for June 14 at the Lexie Bush Convention Center in Cadiz, the conference features some big names in hemp, among them Duke Rodriguez, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, hemp company owner who has vast experience in growing the plant, and Dr. Shawn Pruitt, a Nashville, Tennessee, pharmacist who's been successfully treating patients with diabetes, anxiety and other illnesses for 20-plus years.

Like Rodriguez and Pruitt, most of the speakers are from outside the area.

All of them will provide fresh perspectives on the plant that has been touted as an alternative crop to tobacco for Kentucky's small farmers; they'll talk during the conference about the do's and don'ts of hemp farming and go over the risks and rewards of hemp as well as the costs associated with raising it.

Those attending the conference, which is free to participants, will have plenty of opportunities to ask questions, "all the questions they want to ask," according to Wright, who organized the event.

Wright said he's received a lot of interest about the conference, even as far away as California.

"This event is talking about the real numbers, the real costs, the real numbers, the things you need to expect if you're a hemp grower," he noted. "We need to know 'What are the real costs?'

"Kentucky," he said, "is still new when it comes to hemp."

The biggest draw for the plant and the most important thing when it comes to hemp is helping to save small farmers across the commonwealth, which Wright said was first introduced to hemp in 2014.

As of September, the state had 210 approved hemp growers, and in Christian County, Wright has seen a lot of interest on the topic, prompting him to offer programs so farmers can decide for themselves.

Hemp is a difficult crop and not for everyone, he said.

Wright advises people daily, showing them their options, talking about how they can get their licensures and sharing the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's rules and regulations.

Growing the crop depends on a person's experience, said the agent, noting that the biggest thing for farmers is they have an opportunity to make more money and another alternative to rotate their crops.

He described tobacco as an industry that hasn't benefited small farmers for years, although a lot in the past made their living off growing and stripping the plant; hemp can help fill the gap.

"It's actually an alternative crop to tobacco and a good way to make money," Wright said.

He noted that the upcoming conference will give farmers more insight into hemp and alternative options for growing the plant; hemp, Wright said, can be another stream of revenue and "an opportunity to help our small farmers get better," he said.

He said it's imperative that growers actually come out and hear the rules and regulations for growing hemp; they need to hear from experienced growers, he said.

"The main thing is they need to know what hemp really is," Wright noted.

The free conference kicks off with registration at 8 a.m. on June 14 at the Lexie Bush Convention Center on Complex Street in Cadiz and continues with sessions throughout the day until 4:30 p.m.

Wright urges those who plan to attend to RSVP by calling the Christian County extension office at (270) 886-6328 or by emailing him at Austin.Wright@kysu.edu.

The last day to sign up is June 11.

The event includes breakfast and lunch and will also feature tours of Kentucky Hemp Works in Crofton and Vertical Hemp, the new Cadiz industry that processes industrial hemp. Kentucky Hemp Works, according to its website, offers locally grown, handcrafted hemp products for health and wellness.

Other speakers, in addition to Rodriques and Pruitt, include Scheril Murray-Powell, an attorney who will talk about hemp contracts; agronomy specialist Thomas Keene of the University of Kentucky, who will focus on hemp economics; and Marybeth Tomica, a local farm loan officer.

Tomica will give an overview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency loans.

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

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