Why Kentucky is Researching Hemp Fiber

June 26, 2014

The conditions in Kentucky are quite different from those in traditional hemp growing regions.

One of the Kentucky’s five hemp pilot programs, approved under the new Farm Bill, is a partnership between Murray State University and privately owned U.S. Hemp Oil (San Diego). Each program is unique, and this one is focusing purely on hemp fiber.

So, just what do the involved parties hope to find out?

“Our main goal with Murray State is to establish proper planting techniques,” says Chris Boucher, vice president for U.S. Hemp Oil. He says certain row spacing may correlate with higher fiber yields. The particular climate of Kentucky could influence hemp fiber, too, since most of the world’s hemp grows in climates north of 49°latitude. Kentucky is only around the 37°latitude, so the two groups will need to see what affect this has. Hemp’s photoperiods, or reactions to particular amounts of sunlight and darkness, may also be different in this region of the world.

When research projects like Murray State’s conclude-and when U.S.-grown hemp is allowed to go to market-hemp fiber in particular will have plenty of uses. Textile, auto, packing, and fuel industries are all likely suitors, and the unique makeup of hemp will be of great use to local diets (as has already been shown with legal imports from places like Canada and China).

“First of all, you have a fiber protein that has evolved alongside humans for approximately 34 million years,” says Boucher. “There is no other plant we know of that has survived this long.” The ancient history of hemp is perhaps reason for why this plant can be so useful for humans. Beyond rich stores of fiber, hemp contains protein, all 21 known amino acids (including the 9 that are considered essential), and protease to aid in protein digestion.

As soon as U.S. hemp is allowed to go commercial, hemp is likely to take an even bigger slice out of today’s popular plant protein and fiber markets than it has through imported hemp. The benefits to other local industries should only help its image.

[Photo ©iStockphoto.com/VYCHEGZHANINA]

 

Robby Gardner

Associate Editor

Nutritional Outlook magazine

robby.gardner@ubm.com