Kansas agriculture regulators working to prepare for introduction of industrial hemp as a commercial crop reported a 30% rise in licensing applications from potential growers for the second year of the state's research program.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture received 276 grower applications for the 2020 season, up from just over 200 in the first year of a period devoted to researching production options. Interest among seed distributors increased three to 23, applications from processors held steady at 35 and the number of applications submitted by Kansas State University dipped from nine to seven.

"This year, it's certainly been a transitional year," said Jeff Vogel, the agriculture department's manager of plant protection and weed control program. "As we look forward, I think there will be transitions with the growing of industrial hemp in Kansas."

Opportunities to reintroduce industrial hemp in Kansas will be guided by U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates and Kansas agriculture department regulation. USDA has yet to approve Kansas' regulatory plan.

"We are working towards a commercial program," Vogel said. "That program is not ready yet."

The plant is grown commercially to harvest fiber, seed and floral features, with 90% of acres planted in Kansas linked to CBD oils.

In 2019, Kansas issued grower licenses to farmers in 68 of 105 counties in Kansas. The No. 1 recipient was Haskell County with 13, followed by Reno, Johnson, Miami and Sedgwick counties. The distributor licenses went to operators in 11 counties, with Reno County securing five of those licenses. The processor licenses were allocated across 22 counties.

The licensing process established the opportunity for farmers to plan 5,700 acres of industrial hemp. Growers planted 2,700 acres and harvested 1,700 acres. The 2019 crop was stunted by heavy rainfall that delayed planting or required replanting of fields.

"Acres planted doesn't always translate into acres harvested," Vogel said in a briefing for the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

In the future, he said, Kansas would move to a system that only required licensing of growers. Plants will be tested two weeks before harvested to guarantee farmers weren't dabbling in controlled substances, he said.

In terms of the 2019 crop, he said, nine of 159 fields failed testing and crops with excessive THC levels had to be destroyed.