As Kentucky looks to find a replacement for tobacco as a cash crop, Morehead State University is aiding the endeavor with research on hemp.
The Derrickson Agricultural Complex is home to the only hemp operation in Rowan County, where MSU associate professor Brent Rogers works with students on a variety of hemp research projects.
“There is kind of three prongs to hemp research here in the state right now and it’s fiber, seed and CBD,” said Rogers. “What we are growing is used to extract what is called CBD’s, cannabidiols, used medicinally.”
Morehead State University began hemp research in 2017 and has focused on three projects: herbicide research, a fertility study and fungicide research.
In the on-going fertility study, they are checking the growth and effects of ascending increments of nitrogen applied to the soil through a drip-line irrigation system.
“As of right now, the 100 and 150 pound [per acre] rates are pretty identical,” said MSU student Brock Dean.
Morehead State University is the only licensed grower in Rowan County, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s list of 2019 license holders. Students Dean and Todd Smith help maintain the field and gather experience working on the projects.
Dean said they have been reaching out to local growers in other counties, like Fleming, to collaborate on growing processes and techniques. The farm grows their hemp on plastic similar to a commercial vegetable operation.
“Not many people are doing it yet,” said Smith. “Most people that grew tobacco are just now kind of switching over to hemp.”
House Democratic Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, who lives in Morehead, is hopeful about the future of hemp for Kentucky farmers and said he hopes the growth of hemp will attract hemp manufactures and bring jobs into the area.
“I think Kentucky has an unbelievable opportunity,” said Adkins. “The opportunity to be able to replace a cash crop like tobacco.”
Gencanna Global, out of Winchester, Ky provides the MSU farm with the plants. They go into the field as transplants in order to maintain an all-female plant field.
“If you get males, you start making seeds,” said Rogers. “Your CBD levels go down, as my understanding of it.”
During the first two years of research they focused on herbicide testing, finding it effective in conjunction with proper planting techniques and the plastic beds.
“I understand that people in the western part of the state are doing a lot of herbicide research,” said Rogers. “So, the company felt like they would like us to see if we could do some fungicide research.”
Rogers said that the only fungicides available for use are a few organic products and the research will help determine what other options could be ready in the future.
The plants used for testing have to be destroyed after all information is gathered since the products are not yet labeled.
“I don’t know precisely what it’s going to be yet,” said Rogers. “But, everybody is interested.”