James Jenkins, owner of Highland Sod Farms, has a message for thieves stealing his hemp plants: Stop it.
Hemp is a classification of the cannabis sativa plant and can be used in products such as clothing, paper, plastics and biofuel. The plant is also used for medicinal purposes.
It is closely associated with marijuana, another classification of the cannabis plant, however, hemp has a low Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC content, a psychoactive chemical.
Despite hemp having a low THC content, that doesn’t seem to stop people from stealing his plants, Jenkins said.
“They can smoke the whole ... farm and can’t get nothing out of it,” he said.
Jenkins planted 525 acres of hemp throughout the county from July to August. He is growing the plants for a company in Bowling Green.
Jenkins said he is in the process of installing cameras at his property and eventually will hire armed guards to deter thieves.
“We’re going to get them on camera if we don’t get them shot,” he said. “We’re concerned people that are stealing are probably criminals and they’re probably going to be armed so we’re going to be prepared.”
Theft has become such a problem Jenkins is offering a reward for the apprehension and prosecution of anyone attempting to steal his hemp plants.
Jenkins said the hemp fields also are attracting the attention of passersby.
“Everybody is curious,” he said. “We’re having people stop and take pictures.”
Hemp has a complicated legal history in the United States. It was legal in the 18th and 19th centuries, was considered a banned substance in the 20th century, and with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp production was legalized in the 21st century.
Jenkins said his farm normally grows soybeans. Growing hemp is a different experience, comparing it to maintaining a huge garden that requires constant care.
“It’s challenging,” he said.
In addition to keeping criminals at bay, Jenkins is tasked with making sure his hemp remains weed free.
“There’s not any way around pulling the ... weeds,” he said.
Finding labor to care for the farm is also a challenge. Jenkins utilizes the H-2A visa program which brings foreign workers to the U.S. to help at his farm but admits the work is challenging even for himself. Its very labor intensive, requiring constant weed pulling.
“You can’t find anybody to work,” he said. “I don’t want to do this.”
To grow or handle hemp in Kentucky, a state license must be obtained. Otherwise, growers or handlers could face the same penalties as those who violate policies related to marijuana.
According to a news release from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, more than 1,000 applications to cultivate up to 42,086 acres of hemp were approved this year. Hemp processors also reported $57.75 million in gross product sales in 2018, up drastically from 2017, which saw $16.7 million in sales.
“The numbers tell you what you need to know about the excitement about hemp in Kentucky,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said in a news release.