Farmers create co-op to cultivate hemp

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The first organic co-op looks to lead the hemp cultivation market

For what seems like forever, states like North Carolina and Kentucky have lived off tobacco cultivation. However, as the sentiment toward the product has changed in the U.S., tobacco farmers increasingly found themselves with dwindling supply lines, unable to find buyers. When the federal government approved the 2018 Farm Bill last year, farmers were given a second chance to use their unique skills to cultivate hemp instead of tobacco. Now, the first hemp co-op has been formed, determined to enjoy the same success previously seen with tobacco sales.

The co-op is based in Kentucky, which is the fourth largest hemp producer in the country. It is expected to create a significant amount of wealth for the state, and to also help farmers recuperate some of the losses they have seen over the past few decades.

According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture communications director, Sean Southard, “We want to make Kentucky the leader, and the epicenter, of industrial hemp production in the United States. We’re not sure if it can replace tobacco for farmers, but we know it has serious potential. It’s not a novelty crop.”

Tony Silvernail is a farmer with only 20 acres of land. He began growing hemp a little less than a year ago, but the small size of his farm makes it difficult for him to get attention. He began discussing the idea of a co-op with other small farmers in the community and the idea grew quickly. Initially expecting to find ten acres, there were 30 by last month and 60 by two weeks ago.

Silvernail went on to become the president of the Kentucky Organic Hemp Coalition. He says, “The need was greater than I ever imagined… There’s a huge amount of money being absorbed through the production chain. If we can control more of that, we can get more money back into farmer’s hands.”

Farmers in the state are hedging their livelihoods on the success of hemp, desperate to find a footing in a changing landscape. The idea of a hemp co-op is going to go a long way toward allowing small farmers to compete, and perhaps win, against the large companies.