The Man with the Plan
"As a ninth generation farmer, I'm always looking for new ways to improve our industry and help family farms stay operational."
- Kevin Poole, Basin Spring Farm
Kentucky has a long history in the production of hemp. In the late 19th century Clark County, where our farm is located, was one of the ten Bluegrass counties which produced more than 90 percent of the country's total yield. The industry would experience decline and resurgence multiple times until hemp cultivation was banned by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Fortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, just as Kentucky farmers were scrambling to find something to replace the former cash crop of tobacco. Hemp seemed like the answer once again. The U.S. hemp giant GenCanna contracted with several farmers in our area, including one of our neighbors. When his crop was processed I was struck by how much was left unused in the field. Of course I had heard about the nutritional benefits of the plant which gave me an idea. I was curious if the leftovers could be used as feed for my grass fed cattle herd. I was quickly discouraged to learn that it is currently prohibited to feed hemp products to livestock. Still, the idea of finding a way to feed this super food just wouldn't leave my brain. I started scouring the internet for information about hemp usage in farming in hopes that I might discover some sort of loophole I could use to my advantage. I stumbled across a story about a farmer in Alabama who was having great success with his experimental grazing of cattle on a plant called sunn hemp. Although I've made it a sort of mission to learn about grasses and producing high quality hay, sunn hemp was completely unfamiliar to me. The more I read about it the more excited I became. Not only is it extremely nutritious, with a protein and fiber content rivaling that of industrial hemp, it can be planted with both warm and cool season grasses, improves the soil, and controls weeds. It grows well in hot weather like our Kentucky summers and cattle love it. It didn't turn out quite the way I expected but I had found my solution! I planted my first sunn hemp crop in 2019 and my herd has thrived on it. One of its greatest benefits to cattle is that it maintains that high protein content throughout the summer months when available forage protein is typically low. I've found that the steady high protein diet produces beef with fantastic flavor yet is still lean and maintains the health benefits of grass fed meat. It's simply a superior product.