TOPEKA — The Kansas State University associate dean of research said Thursday significant challenges must be overcome to meaningfully integrate industrial hemp into the state's production agriculture system.
"It is really agriculture research at its infancy," said Marty Draper, associate dean of research and graduate programs at Kansas State. "The research program is very important for us."
Overhaul of state and federal law regarding the cultivation of hemp represented an opportunity for scientists and farmers to explore prospects of growing a version of marijuana that provides raw material in manufacturing of textiles and other products.
The national policy on industrial hemp was in the bill signed by President Donald Trump. A state law adopted by the 2018 Kansas Legislature paved the way for research on the plant by higher education institutions. It is possible hemp research could be initiated in Colby, Draper said.
Mike Beam, interim secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, told the Senate Ways and Means Committee during a briefing on components of the new Farm Bill that individual states were authorized to develop a plan for commercial hemp production subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"If we choose to submit a state plan for USDA approval," Beam said, "we'll need to advance legislation this session."
Paul Johnson, a policy analyst with the Kansas Rural Center, said 80 percent of the Farm Bill signed by Trump invested 80 percent of funding into nutrition and food programs. In the 2018 fiscal year, Kansas received $299 million for food stamps, which provided aid to 219,000 people with "food insecurity" issues.
He said the challenge of providing adequate access to food in Kansas was influenced by loss of the grocery stores in about 85 rural communities since 2010. Kansas ranked 44th in the nation for enrolling only 69 percent of eligible people in food stamps, he said.
Twenty percent of the Farm Bill is devoted to farm programs and subsidies, which reached $1 billion in 2017. Half went to commodity programs, $386 million to crop insurance subsidies, $94 million to conservation research programs and $4.9 million for disaster aid. Kansas ranked sixth among the 50 states in volume of farm program subsidies, Johnson said.
"In terms of the commodity and corp insurance subsidies," Johnson said, "the top 10 percent of farms receive 73 percent of these benefits and the top 20 percent receive 88 percent of these payments."
Johnson said 32 percent of the 60,000 farms in Kansas receive no federal government benefits.
Paula Peters, associate director of extension programs at Kansas State, said the Farm Bill's nutrition assistance component served the interest of low-income Kansans. The state's extension service receives $700,000 annually for a special nutrition education program that employs community members to help peers improve diet and physical activity, she said.
"The paraprofessionals are especially able to connect well with the audience because they are from the same neighborhoods," Peters said.
She said the partial federal government shutdown raised questions about whether funding would continue to be available for the food education program and a separate food stamp education initiative.