Southern states may lag behind on marijuana laws, but Tennessee State University is leading the way in hemp research

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University is among the nation’s leaders in hemp research, and the recently passed U.S. Farm Bill is making sure it remains at the forefront.

Hemp workshop at TSU in March. (Photo by Joan Kite, College of Agriculture)

The bill Congress approved in December legalizes the growth and manufacturing of industrial hemp, cannabis plants with little of the chemical that can cause a high. The legalization clears the way for existing programs at land-grant institutions like TSU to expand research and development programs for medicinal and textile production.

“I am excited for this opportunity for TSU, and I look forward to seeing how this will help produce the next generation of agricultural leaders in our state,” said Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper.

Historically, industrial hemp has been regarded primarily as an agricultural crop valued for fiber and grain. Hemp fiber is used to make textiles, building materials, animal bedding, mulch, paper, industrial products, and biofuels. Hemp grain, or seed, is used in food and feed products, and oil from the seed is used to make personal care products and industrial products, including paints, solvents, and lubricants.

TSU’s College of Agriculture has charged a team of scientists to develop hemp production practices for Tennessee. The research projects include developing hemp nutritional products for human consumption and studying the economic viability of hemp production in Tennessee. Currently, the university is growing and evaluating 10 varieties of hemp.

Products made from hemp. (Photo by Joan Kite, College of Agriculture)

“TSU wants to be at the forefront of this new interest that’s cropping up across the country,” said Dr. Chandra Reddy, dean of the College of Agriculture. “If it’s ever approved for large scale use, we have some knowledge about it and can work with the farmers.”

TSU has hosted several hemp workshops/meetings, including one on Jan. 11 with the Tennessee Hemp Industries Association, an advocate for the production of industrial hemp. More than 200 people attended the meeting.

Joe Kirkpatrick, president of the TNHIA, said Tennessee currently has the largest state HIA chapter in the nation and he credited “TSU for helping us facilitate those meetings and outreach to the public.”

“It’s also great to have the world-class laboratories and scientists there, the researchers, to help … move the hemp industry forward,” Kirkpatrick said.

Dr. Fitzroy Bullock heads up the hemp research at TSU. He said people have come from as far as Colorado to attend the university’s hemp workshops.

“We have been very successful,” Bullock said. “We have established something that folks need.”

Tonya Lewis, a Nashville resident interested in growing hemp, said the meeting she attended at TSU was beneficial.

“It helped me understand where the state is in regards to research on hemp, and how to go about getting everything from a license to actually grow hemp, to looking at the benefits of it statewide, as far as economically,” Lewis said.

Farmer Michael Walls talks to local television reporter at TSU hemp workshop in September. (Photo by Emmanuel Freeman, TSU Media Relations)

Anand Kumar is a research assistant in TSU’s College of Ag. He said the College has extension programs that allow researchers to visit individuals who are growing hemp and assist them as needed.

“We designed our program so we can be responsive to the demands of farmers in Tennessee,” Kumar said. “We try to reach all counties throughout the state.”

Michael Walls is one farmer who has benefited from TSU hemp researchers. His family has a 140-acre farm in Hardeman County that is using an acre to grow hemp.

“There’s a lot of potential for what hemp can do,” said Walls, adding that his family plans to broaden their hemp growth. “I’m just trying to get more information to see what other possibilities there are.”

In addition to hemp legalization, the Farm Bill also provides TSU and the other 18 historically-black land-grant institutions the following funding over the next five years:

  • $95 million for student scholarships and grants
  • $50 million to support three HBCU Centers of Excellence in agricultural workforce development, nutrition and food security, economic development and emerging technologies
  • $15 million for HBCU cooperative extension and research

To learn more about TSU’s College of Agriculture, visit


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About Tennessee State University

With more than 7,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at