Hemp was introduced into Kentucky with the earliest settlers. By the early 19th century it had become a significant cash crop with production centered in the Bluegrass and with large amounts also grown in Shelby, Mason and Jefferson counties. These areas had the richest soil, which was needed for high yields.
Hemp farming was extremely labor intensive, requiring extensive amounts of backbreaking work. Hemp, as it was produced in Kentucky, was dependent on a slave economy.
Kentucky's 19th-century hemp crop was used to produce cordage and rough bagging for the baling of the cotton crop in the deep south. Kentucky's dew-rotted hemp was of inferior quality, could never compete with imported water-rotted hemp, and was unsuccessful for marine uses.
The price of hemp fluctuated wildly making it difficult to rely on. ($330/ton in 1810; $60/ton in 1822; $180/ton in 1936; $80/ton in 1837)
Hemp production in Kentucky began to decline dramatically during and after the Civil War. Union forces prevented its river transport and demand was reduced because of reduced cotton production. After the war, new methods of baling cotton using iron bands became prevalent. Also, the end of slavery made finding an adequate labor force difficult.
From the the 1870s through World War II hemp was grown in small quantities in Kentucky with several surges in production prompted by various short-lived demands. During this time Kentucky production was overtaken by hemp grown in Wisconsin where mechanized harvesting had been introduced. In Kentucky, methods of growing and harvesting hemp never changed from those developed in the early 19th century when John Speed was growing hemp.
Increasing concerns over the use of hemp for marijuana production led to a government prohibition on its production.
To learn more about Farmington and our agricultural roots, join us for Hemp Discovery Day on April 30, 2016 from 4:00 PM - 9:00 PM to celebrate our hemp heritage and learn about the modern day uses of the crop as we prepare to plant our hemp pilot project this summer.
By: Diane Young, Executive Director