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“Absolutely it’s going to work,” he said. “It worked 80 years ago.”

Madison County alpaca farmer Alvina Maynard sees the potential of blending alpaca and hemp fibers to create novelty clothing and upholstery fabrics. Maynard said she’d like to partner with farmers to supply hemp.

“It produces a textile that neither one could create on its own,” she said.

Hemp was historically used for rope but has many other uses: clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and creams, soap and lotions.

Hemp production was banned decades ago when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa. Hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Besides hemp, Comer presented several other recommendations to help agriculture in the region:

-Creating a tourism center featuring the region’s food, arts and crafts and abundant wildlife, ranging from elks to birds. It also would include a concert venue. Several locations have been identified as potential sites.

-Encouraging colleges and universities to develop niche agricultural products that could thrive in eastern Kentucky.

-Seeking legislation to return 100 percent of coal severance tax dollars to coal-producing counties, and dedicating 15 percent of those funds to agricultural development.

“People say, ‘Well, we can’t grow food in eastern Kentucky because of the mountains and the terrain,’” Comer said. “There are lots of things that grow in the mountains.”