Expert

Meet Katy Kilbourne, plant pathologist at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture

By Julia Lynn Rubin
TN Dept of Agriculture

Beginning November 15, 2018, industrial hemp growers may apply to become a part of an exciting new revised hemp industrial pilot program at the University of Tennessee. Katy Kilbourne, a plant pathologist and inspector at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, tells us that 226 industrial hemp growers have been licensed by the University program so far, with three state universities participating in total, including Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, and the University of Tennessee.

Applicants for an industrial hemp grower license and process registration must include an aerial photograph of the growing area, along with a payment made out to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture based on the size of the land used. Growers who have been approved should receive their licenses by March 1.

“Growers have shared that connecting with processors and finding seed that will grow well in Tennessee have been challenges as this part of the industry continues to grow and stabilize, but we see these topics becoming less challenging over the years,” says Kilbourne. “Industrial hemp pilot program leaders and coordinators from different states often work together to share best practices, so you’ll find many similarities between the programs. One difference to note is that Tennessee’s program has some of the lowest licensing fees in the country.”

The state is, in fact, an excellent location for growing industrial hemp, and has a long history of success with the crop. By the mid-1600’s, hemp was an essential part of the Colonial economy in America, used to produce cloth, cordage, paper, sacks, and canvas. George Washington himself was in favor of hemp production, and Thomas Jefferson bred his own varieties. By the early 19th century, hemp began being cultivated across Tennessee, and was one of the state’s most profitable crops.

“Tennessee’s first commissioner of agriculture, Joseph Killebrew, reported in his Resources of Tennessee published in 1874 that hemp was widely grown throughout Middle Tennessee,” Kilbourne explains. “Tennessee’s location, environment, and soil/land type have not seemed to show any obvious disadvantages at this time when compared to other states.”

As federal legislation around hemp continues to evolve, slowly but surely, as does the general public’s ideas around what the plant is and what it can be used for. Many Americans, growers included, tend to lump hemp and cannabis in the same category, and might assume that both crops equally produce the same amounts of the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component found in cannabis. But unlike marijuana, hemp contains less than 0.3% THC.

Widespread misconception and stigma around CBD and hemp, Kilbourne says, actually “creates an educational opportunity [to] share the differences between the two and work to reduce any negative stigma that is present.”

The global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products, among them auto parts, food and beverages, fabrics and textiles, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, and home furnishings. The possibilities for farmers and agricultural industry leaders are virtually endless, assuming they can obtain the proper licensing to cultivate hemp. Currently, the world’s leaders in hemp production are China, Russia, and South Korea. According to the University of Tennessee’s Department of Agriculture, “current industry estimates report that U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year.”

The Tennessee Hemp Association (TNHIA) is a membership-based non-profit that has been serving members of the hemp industry since 1994, and has over 800 estimated members, both national and international. Their mission is to educate the public hemp production and its many attributes as a crop, maintain and defend the integrity of hemp products, advocate for socially sound business practices, and help facilitate the exchange of information between hemp agriculturists, processors, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

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