States apply to grow industrial hemp, now that it’s legally recognized

Pennsylvania hemp

SALEM, Ohio — States are actively applying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp, following changes in the 2018 farm bill that remove the crop from the federal Controlled Substance Act, and that allow growers to access USDA programs such as crop insurance.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recently submitted their state plan for industrial hemp to the USDA.

Pa. Ag Secretary Russell Redding said industrial hemp presents “an exciting new chapter” in the state’s agricultural history and diversity.

Applications approved

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture approved 1,035 applications to cultivate up to 42,086 acres of industrial hemp in 2019, said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. The KDA also approved 2.9 million square feet of greenhouse space for hemp cultivation.

“The numbers tell you what you need to know about the excitement about hemp in Kentucky,” Quarles said. “The growth in the number of approved acres from 16,000 last year to 42,000 this year shows that Kentucky is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the hemp industry in the United States.”

Pa. approved 84 permit applications. Over the past two years, the Pa. ag department has administered the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program, legitimized by the 2014 farm bill and authorized in Pennsylvania statute by the Industrial Hemp Research Act. Acreage caps — previously set at 100 acres — have been lifted for the 84 approved applicants and acreage will no longer be restricted under the new program.

Additionally, there will not be a cap on the number of applications accepted for 2019. The 84 approved applications will be finalized first; additional applications will be reviewed and processed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Fee structure

The Pa. department has updated the fee structure for the 2019 Industrial Hemp Program, creating savings for the already-approved applicants.

Industrial hemp was grown in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S. until after World War II, but became regulated along with marijuana and its cultivation was prohibited. Industrial hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same species of plant.

Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp is grown mainly for fiber and seed and must maintain a much lower concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, below the 0.3 percent legal threshold. Pennsylvania’s plan will make industrial hemp subject to the Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee, created under Act 46 of 2017.

Registration required

With the committee’s approval, industrial hemp will become a controlled plant, which will require all growers to register and obtain permits through their ag department. The permit will include all information required by federal law for industrial hemp production and will allow enforcement necessary for any violation of permit conditions.

“The plan that we have submitted to USDA certifies our commitment to creating the conditions for Pennsylvanians to grow a profitable, sustainable, and in-demand product,” added Redding. “Over the past two years, through the research pilot program, we have demonstrated that we have the capability to build a hemp production regulatory program with the integrity and oversight that is needed.”


Kentucky received a total of 1,115 applications — 1,074 grower applications and 41 processor/handler applications. Applicants were asked to identify which harvestable component of the plant would be the focus of their research (floral material, grain, or fiber); some applicants selected more than one component.

The Kentucky ag department also approved 40 new applications from processors (in addition to 69 previously approved multi-year processor license holders who are renewing their licenses for 2019). Several universities will also carry out additional research projects in 2019.

In 2018, 210 Kentucky growers were licensed to plant up to 16,100 acres of industrial hemp and planted more than 6,700 acres. Program participants planted more than 3,200 acres in 2017, 2,350 acres in 2016, and 922 acres in 2015.


Thirty-three acres were planted in 2014, the first growing year. Individuals and businesses must be licensed by the KDA to grow or process industrial hemp in Kentucky.

Under laws passed by the Kentucky General Assembly and the U.S. Congress, it is unlawful to possess any raw or unprocessed hemp, hemp plants, or hemp seed without a license from the KDA. KDA hemp program license holders must pass background checks and consent to allow program staff and law enforcement officers to inspect any premises where hemp or hemp products are being grown, handled, stored, or processed.

Under state law, KDA provides GPS coordinates of approved hemp planting sites to law enforcement agencies before any hemp is planted. GPS coordinates must be submitted on the application.

In the future, KDA will conduct an analysis to reduce administrative regulations deemed no longer necessary due to the 2018 farm bill. However, there will be no program changes in 2019.

Get the details

To learn more about hemp regulations in Pennsylvania, visit

To learn more about hemp regulations in Kentucky, visit

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