State expands hemp research opportunities

Industrial crop could increase to over 5,000 acres

From staff reports

HARRISBURG – After a successful inaugural year in which industrial hemp was reintroduced in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday that the commonwealth will significantly expand the opportunities for this promising agricultural crop in 2018. From fewer than 50 total acres in 2017, next season’s crop could cover 5,000 acres or more.

For 2018, the commonwealth will permit up to 50 individual growers or institutions of higher education to grow up to 100 acres apiece. Institutions of higher education also may partner with individual growers to produce larger quantities of hemp. Last year, the department limited the number of growers to 30, each of whom could grow no more than five acres.

“Hemp had a long history in Pennsylvania until it disappeared from the landscape half-a-century ago, but now, I’m excited that we’ve brought it back and we’re creating new agricultural opportunities in the process,” said Wolf. “Last year was a learning experience for growers and the Department of Agriculture alike, but even with the small-scale research pilot projects of 2017, it was clear there is a tremendous enthusiasm among growers. Our expanded program is designed to capitalize on this interest in 2018.”

The 2014 federal Farm Bill paved the way for Wolf to sign Pennsylvania’s Industrial Hemp Research Act (Act 92) into law on July 20, 2016, which allows researchers from institutions of higher education and individual growers contracting with the state Department of Agriculture to apply for permits to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.

“The 2017 growing season was incredibly informative for us,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “We learned about the challenges of sourcing seed, controlling weeds, harvesting, and finding markets. Each of last year’s 14 projects taught us something valuable and we’re pleased that every one of those project leaders are likely to reapply next year. We expect to see the full potential of this industry in 2018.”

For thousands of years, industrial hemp was grown to produce fiber, food and seed; more recent uses include biofuel and materials to replace fossil-fuel-based plastics. However, when marijuana, a different variety of Cannabis sativa, was federally outlawed in 1937, industrial hemp also was prohibited even though it did not produce levels of the chemical delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) sufficient to provide any psychoactive effect. Under state and federal law, THC levels must not exceed concentrations greater than 0.3 percent.

Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act, passed in April 2016 and regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, requires that cannabis for medical use be grown at a permitted growing facility. Medical marijuana must meet strict requirements for purity and specific chemical concentrations.

Aspiring hemp growers should review the new parameter document to understand the permitting process, then complete and return the 2018 Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program permit application and application fee before the Jan. 19, 2018 deadline. Permit applications and additional information is available on the Department of Agriculture website.

Growers who participated in the 2017 pilot research program may renew their permits to continue an existing project from the previous season, or they may submit a new project. All applications to participate in the 2018 Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program must be received by 4 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2018.

Research projects might explore a range of topics including planting methods, such as seed variety trials, fiber or seed yields, optimum fertility levels, pest management; harvesting techniques or product marketing options; or conservation, remediation or biofuel.

The permitting process will outline reporting requirements and restrictions related to THC levels, plant management, transportation, branding, and other legal responsibilities.

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