Editor’s Note: This is part of a series on the growth of hemp and the economic impact on Scott County.
Scott County farmer Chuck Tackett had grown tobacco all his life.
“I owned a warehouse and still have 50 acres of tobacco,” he said.
But he knew that he needed to diversify his agriculture portfolio, so when he was approached about growing hemp, he thought it was worth taking a chance.
And after five years of being part of the hemp reemergence in Kentucky, he is seeing the benefits, although it took awhile.
“One of the owners of (Central Kentucky Solutions), came to me about growing it,” Tackett said as he walked through his greenhouse and hemp field. “I’ll never forget it. We did the fiber side, the seed side, and it was a disaster. It got about knee high and the weeds took it.
“We then went to this (cloning) side, and we were two years in, and didn’t do well. There was no income at all. They came the third year and said they would like for me to step it up. I said, ‘Guys, there has been no paychecks. I’ve invested a lot in these greenhouses and I have to see a return.’”
But then things took off, he got a nice check and was soon out of debt.
Now he is an equal owner of Central Kentucky Solutions, has almost paid the debt off of becoming a partner, grows about 85 acres of hemp and is a plant distributor to other licensed hemp farmers.
“That’s a pretty quick turnaround,” Tackett said.
He has seen hemp’s growth into Kentucky agriculture, and he believes there is a market for it, although he is concerned about the number of new growers getting into the field.
“The price has to come down, it has to because the number of farmers has grown,” Tackett said. “I think some of the new growers came into it pretty strong and I think we’ll see some weed problems in some parts of the state. I have already heard from some, and I’m like you don’t go in that heavy. Start small and learn what it takes.”
He uses a cloning method to get his plants, which involves raising mother plants — 5,200 of them, taking the cuttings from those plants to create the seed trays that eventually end up in the fields. He said they take the clones in October, put them in seed trays and put in greenhouses for the winter. He has generated 1.1 million clones, and had half a million plants in his greenhouse as the planting season gets in full swing.
When the crop is harvested in late September, October and even into November, the workers use lopping shears to cut the plants and they are loaded Christmas-tree style on a wagon and hung in a barn.
“It’s a later crop than tobacco,” Tackett said. “You don’t have to go to the field as early with it. It likes well-drained soil, and it doesn’t matter if it is knee high or shoulder high, when the days get shorter, that is the end of the growing cycle.
“It is labor intense, but so much easier than tobacco. You know how hot and dirty you get in the tobacco patch. Hemp is not as heavy to put in the barn. The workers love working in it.”
He has 20 H2A workers legally brought here and two other employees that work in the crop, which is under constant supervision.
“Hemp has to have .3 or less THC to be accepted into the Kentucky program. When it reaches .3 it becomes a level of concern, and when it gets a level above that, it gets banned,” Tackett said. “The state tests it, and we have our own lab to monitor the growth rate, tonnage rate, THC and CBD levels. THC levels go up the longer it stays in the field, so you have to find a balance between the THC and CBD.”
Tackett also said growers have to get a state police background check, then the field is registered with the state with latitude and longitude. Those coordinates are shared with the state police so when they are doing their flyovers looking for marijuana, they can cross check coordinates to make sure it is legal.
Tackett has not had many issues having to educate people on hemp, he said, although getting regulations changed has been helpful.
“I really appreciate the Agriculture Commissioner, Ryan Quarles, for coming out and seeing what is needed to help. His chief of staff has been here too,” Tackett said. “They didn’t have to do that.”
He sees hemp as having a good future, which will help farmers as they diversify their land.
“My dad didn’t like it all. He said, ‘I can’t believe you are raising this stuff.’ I said, ‘Dad, we have to look at something different,’” Tackett said. “A dairy can’t carry a farm. Corns and soybeans can’t carry a farm. Tobacco prices are the same as they were 25 years ago.
“You have to diversify or you can’t keep the farms up and maintain them to the level they need. I can say hemp has been good to me.”
Steve McClain can be reached at email@example.com.