The Kentucky State Fair starts on Thursday, and the presenting sponsor will be a hemp production company — a first in the fair’s 115-year history.
State Fair officials named GenCanna as the presenting sponsor in a June 4 announcement, adding that hemp has a promising future in Kentucky. The company will host a booth at the fair with free merchandise, information on partner opportunities and educational information about hemp. State Fair spokesman Ian Cox said the fair board chose GenCanna because of its work promoting Kentucky’s agriculture.
“We look at what [the] people of Kentucky can resonate with, what they can relate with, and also the values of our show,” Cox said. “When you look at the transition of farmers going from tobacco to hemp, GenCanna fit the bill.”
GenCanna, based in Winchester, Kentucky, was one of the first companies to get a Kentucky hemp license as part of the state’s pilot program. The company, which focuses on growing and manufacturing hemp to produce food products, has grown since then and recently expanded to start construction on a new, $40 million facility.
Though this isn’t the first time hemp has been part of the fair, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said the crop’s larger presence this year is a big deal for the growing industry.
“Hemp gives Kentucky the opportunity to be first in something instead of last,” Quarles said. “The fact that we have a hemp company being the presenting sponsor to the Kentucky State Fair is not only historic, but it also reflects how big this industry is becoming.”
Interest in hemp has boomed these last few years. Sales rose by $41 million in 2018, and Quarles expects sales will double this year. But hemp has carried a stigma for a long time because of its close relation to cannabis.
Though it has almost no THC, the psychoactive chemical which gives marijuana users their “high” feeling, it was criminalized as part of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed hemp growth for research and development and signaled growing acceptance of the crop. The 2018 Farm Bill effectively legalized the crop, clearing the way for farmers and industry newcomers.
According to Kentucky Department of Agriculture spokesman Sean Southard, there were 500 hemp processing jobs, around 1000 growers and more than 200 hemp processors reported in Kentucky this year. But GenCanna President Steve Bevan said there is more work to do when it comes to growing the industry’s reach.
“What’s next is getting better and more efficient at what we do,” Bevan said. “It’s not going to be easy, but what we’re going to learn now is going to help Kentucky stay out front into the future.”
This year’s fair starts August 15 and ends August 25.