A Hemp Legacy Reborn
Because of the 2014 Farm Bill, 88-year-old Jake Graves planted industrial hemp on his farm last June for the first time in decades last. Graves’ family has grown hemp since the 1770s. During World War I and World War II the family grew the crop to help maintain military supplies. However, after WWII ended the mandatory permits for hemp farming forced Jake and his family to abandon their once-lucrative hemp farming.
Now Graves is able to plant industrial hemp again in hopes to revitalize the “strong Kentucky hemp” variety. In 1937 the hemp crop was regulated under the Marijuana Tax Act, forcing farmers to jump through several permitting hoops and fees before allowing the growth. In 1942, to support the war, the US relaxed regulations providing farmers with easier means to grow hemp.
During WWII Kentucky was the central supplier for hemp seed, growing the grain to export to Wisconsin, Missouri and Minnesota so those states could grow fibers for military supplies. The hemp fibers were used as rope and parachute webbing, among other products, which were essential given that Asian nations cut off other petrochemical fiber supplies.
While the relaxed regulations helped grow the hemp markets, it hurt the Graves’ economic holding on the industry. The Graves family happened to own a majority of the “strong Kentucky hemp” fiber variety that the US Department of Agriculture desired. So when the US military knocked on the Graves’ door, the family was forced to “sell” their entire hemp seed supply, 300 acres of land and a tobacco warehouse. The military distributed the seeds evenly to farmers to grow during WWII. After the war ended, the military kept the commandeered seeds, only permitting growth to farmers that completed the extensive permitting process.
Unfortunately, the permitting process was so involved that little to no farmers continued with production through the 50s and 60s. By 1970 hemp was a forgotten commodity, confused with its cousin crop marijuana and categorized as a drug as dangerous as heroin. Heavy regulation remained to control hemp growth until last year, when Kentucky took advantage of the Farm Bill and allowed Jake to help plant the first pilot hemp plots since the 1940s.