MURRAY — In reflecting on the sixth annual Agricultural Hemp Field Day Murray State University’s Hutson School of Agriculture hosted Thursday, Dr. Tony Brannon said Friday that he was amazed by how different this one seemed, compared to others.
For starters, this was the first time the event was entirely contained to the Hutson School’s West Farm complex, the place where its program in 2014 planted the first hemp seeds to be legally planted anywhere in the United States since the 1930s. Then, there were the presenters who included heavy hitters from both the state and federal level.
With subjects such as CBD and HempWood now very hot topics locally and regionally, Brannon said there seemed to be a little something for nearly everyone.
“It was another great day for agriculture at Murray State University, a great day for hemp and a great day really for our region for people to gather together and talk about this hemp craze,” he said of the activity that attracted about 300 farmers, agriculture officials and others with an interest in this crop and where it is going. This comes a few months after the establishment of the Murray State Center for Industrial Hemp.
“Something that was different and, at the same time, exciting to me and our program is that this was the first time we had the entire event at the West Farm. Typically, we start at the Expo Center or in some other indoor area, like the Curris Center, and the reason for that is we really hadn’t accumulated that much research to demonstrate. Now, we can totally showcase what we’re doing.
“What’s particularly exciting to me, though, is we had a lot of people here. You know, farmers used to go to field days all of the time. It was actually called a farmer vacation, where you’d even take your wife along. Nowadays, though, with this age of instant information, people don’t typically attend field days anymore like they used to.”
The presence of two officials in particular seemed to provide more intrigue than usual this year. Brannon said Doris Hamilton, who is the state director of hemp for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, was not only present but also offered her insight on the commonwealth’s growing hemp industry. She also was named a Hemp Hero by the Hutson School for her efforts in the crop’s development, joining other recipients such as former Kentucky agriculture commissioner and now Kentucky 1st District Congressman James Comer and current Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in this distinction.
Also present Thursday was Kim Harris of the AgriLogic firm that is taking a lead role in writing the specifications for crop insurance in regards to hemp, something not in place as of now.
“One of the barriers we ran into once we got (hemp) legalized was that there’s no crop insurance. We believe they’re going to release it soon, but what’s so big about this is that people were able to hear from the person who is right on the front line of this,” Brannon said, adding that both Harris and Hamilton also hosted question-and-answer sessions during tours visitors took of the Murray State fields.
Brannon said this is very similar to the Dark Tobacco Twilight Tours that have attracted large crowds for 17 years, detailing the results of trials University of Kentucky tobacco analysts have conducted at the West Farm. And, in the same style, Brannon said some results of experimentation of the hemp crop were unveiled.
“One of the things we’ve been doing includes feeding hemp seed to chickens, and the first preliminary study shows that the meat came back higher in things like Omega 3 and Omega 6. That’s a good thing, but it is still very preliminary at this point,” he said, also noting that some experiments are strictly only for Murray State use. “One of those includes seeing how fertilizer does with hemp, and one of the things I was telling the farmers (Thursday) is ‘Do not try this at home.’ It’s illegal to use chemicals on hemp yet, but we can because we’re conducting supervised tests.”
Those results are important, looking ahead, Brannon said. He said Fibonacci founder Greg Wilson, creator of HempWood, is showing particular interest in these results. HempWood is the material the new facility in the Elm Grove community will use to manufacture materials for flooring, furniture and other wood products from hemp fiber, not seed.
Brannon also said an experiment is underway to see how hemp being farmed for its fiber performs when it is planted adjacent to plants that are sought for the seeds, which yield CBD oil. He said it is experiments like this that made Murray State personnel want to be a leader in hemp research.
“All we’ve got, really, is 80 years of silence in research. We’re just now catching up,” Brannon said of the ban on hemp that went into effect around World War II when many began seeing the crop as illicit. That ended late last year when Congress passed its farm bill.
“I’ve never contended that we’re the preeminent research facility on hemp, but we have been a leader and we have important people calling us just about every day,” Brannon said. “You have someone like Kim Harris who calls Murray State to ask, ‘Hey! Who should we talk to?’”