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McConnell: Hemp Seeds May Come from Ukraine as Planting Deadline Looms

John Null

Kentucky universities with permission to grow industrial hemp are hitting roadblocks to obtain seeds, as planting season nears an end.

Earlier this year, the federal government gave some universities, including Murray State University, the go-ahead to begin industrial hemp pilot projects. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who supported the hemp provision in this year’s farm bill, led a discussion of the crop at MSU Tuesday. He said seed companies are having trouble getting the seeds through customs due to DEA red tape.

McConnell said one option is to get the seeds from Ukraine.

“Boy, you never thought Ukraine would come up at a meeting at Murray State about the possibility of growing industrial hemp,” McConnell said. “The connection is - we’re all following Ukraine right now for obvious reasons - the Russians are creating a lot of problems and we’re trying to figure out how we can strengthen our relationship with Ukraine. One of the ways might be to buy hemp seeds from Ukraine and that’s what the Caudill company is looking at.”

Carl Gering, a representative of the Louisville-based  Caudill Seed Company, was present at Tuesday's discussion. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been very supportive of the process, but hemp seeds' regulation under the Controlled Substances Act has made importing them difficult.

"We're peeling this like an onion," Gering said. "We're peeling this down. The next thing we're running into now is we have to wait for the DEA to approve it."

In February, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway offered to aid the import of hemp seeds by contacting federal border patrol officials.

MSU Hutson School of Agriculture Dean Tony Brannon says Murray State has a 4-to-6 week window to obtain the seeds. After that, it will be too late in the growing season and the school will have to wait until next year.

The Kentucky state legislature laid the groundwork for industrial hemp research when it passed Senate Bill 50 last year, which exempted industrial hemp from the state's controlled substances act, but mandated that the commonwealth still follow federal hemp regulations. The Federal Farm Bill allows state departments of agriculture, in states where industrial hemp is legal, to administer industrial hemp pilot programs in conjunction with universities for the purposes of research and development.

Murray State's pilot program will cultivate European seeds for the purposes of studying hemp fiber.

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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