MURRAY -- Murray State University officially christened its new Center for Agricultural Hemp on Wednesday morning in a kickoff celebration held at the CFSB Center.
"What a great day for Murray State University, what a great day for Murray State agriculture," said Dr. Tony Brannon, dean of the school's Hutson School of Agriculture. "I've had the pleasure of saying that many times over the years, but today is especially a great day for our west Kentucky region and for Murray State agriculture."
Established earlier this year, the center will focus on several primary topics and initiatives involving agronomy, cannabinoid science, agribusiness, economics and finance, animal feeds and fibers, education, hemp policy, workforce development and agricultural hemp farming.
Murray State was the first university to plant and grow agricultural hemp and has been the leader for the industry in the region.
"This is one of those historic, landmark days in the history of the university and the school of agriculture," said Dr. Bob Jackson, MSU president. "We appreciate all the work that's been done, Tony, for many months. I think we're going to look back in a year, five years, 25 years, and say this was a watershed moment for Murray State University."
Both Jackson and Brannon praised the efforts of U.S. Rep. James Comer, whose First District includes west Kentucky, for his role in helping pave the way for industrial hemp both as a state legislator and as Kentucky's agriculture commissioner.
"I've had the opportunity to work with Congressman Comer in many capacities over the years," Jackson said. "He's been a friend to western Kentucky and Murray State for 20 years or more."
Brannon noted Comer "took a chance when other people were not willing to take chances. He singled this out as a issue for growth in the commonwealth and since that work started in 2012 and 2013, he has been a hemp hero."
Taking his turn at the podium, Comer turned the praise back to the university.
"I can't think of a place in the world more deserving than Murray State University to have this honor and be a leader as we move forward," Comer said. "As the industry continues to emerge and evolve, this university is going to continue to play a huge role and the Center for Agricultural Hemp is a great step in the right direction.
"There's a lot of private sector interest in this industry," he said. "And, the fact that we have the center here bodes well for west Kentucky. The future is very bright."
Comer joined the other speakers in recognizing the important role private investors have made and continue to make regarding hemp.
"I'll tell you there are regions in Kentucky that would give anything to have these companies making the investment they are making in this area," he said. "I think the reasons these companies are located here is because we have the best farmers in the state to grow it and also because of Murray State University."
The five initial foundation partners recognized Wednesday were CV Sciences, GenCanna, Vertical Wellness, Unified Ag Holdings Inc. and Fibonacci HempWood.
Following the ceremony, Comer said, "I never would have foreseen the consumer demand for CBD, and right now you're seeing west Kentucky being a major producer of CBD oil in America.
"Retail stores can't keep it on the shelves, consumers are buying it, so it's very exciting to see the growth in the industry," he said.
While the overwhelming majority of hemp production currently is related to CBD oil, there is a great deal of potential for producing other products from hemp fiber, according to Comer.
"The potential is there, we just need help to develop that infrastructure. And I think the private sector will do that. Because of what we announced today, the Center for Industrial Hemp here at Murray State is positioned to be a huge partner in developing the fiber infrastructure as well."