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SC: Officials Finalizing Application Process For Farmers To Grow Industrial Hemp

Ron Strider

Well-Known Member
Though South Carolina has cleared the way, when farmers can begin growing industrial hemp is still being worked out.

State officials soon hope to enable farmers to apply to be part of a pilot program, in line with a 2014 federal farm bill, that allows them to grow, process and sell hemp before the year is out. Officials have targeted July 1 to open the application period.

Interest from farmers has ticked up in recent weeks since the proposal cleared the General Assembly and became law, S.C. Department of Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Clint Leach said.

"We know you're interested," Leach said of farmers calling the agency. "We're not prepared to have it done tomorrow, but we're working very quickly."

Once a permitting program is in place, the Department of Agriculture would allow up to 20 permits statewide in the first year of the program for farmers to grow industrial hemp on up to 20 acres of land each.

That number would increase to 40 farmers planting on 40 acres each in the second and third years of the program. After that, the Department of Agriculture and the state universities researching hemp would determine the number of permits issued and on how much land the plant could be grown.

Hemp growing has been illegal in South Carolina for several decades. The long-running controversy stems from its physical similarity to marijuana, even though hemp doesn't have marijuana's same levels of the intoxicating, psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.

Farmers will have to pass a state and federal background check, and work with a processor and a college, such as Clemson University, to conduct research on any potential benefits for the state in growing and processing hemp.

Hemp can be made into products such as oil, which can be used for medicinal purposes, as well as rope, clothing, paper, canvas, soap and even some food and drinks, such as butter and milk.

Leach said agriculture officials are working with the State Law Enforcement Division and colleges to determine the best way to go about soliciting and granting permits.

"What we're looking at is very similar to what the state of Kentucky and their program looks at," Leach said.

Kentucky began a pilot program in 2014, which South Carolina officials have watched closely. The Kentucky program expanded from about 20 growers producing 33 acres of hemp in its first year, to approving 213 growers to plant up to 12,800 acres in 2017, Kentucky Department of Agriculture officials said.

Leach said there will be no charge to apply for a permit, but those who receive them may have to pay a fee of up to $1,000.

Leach said officials plan to take several things into account when determining which farmers get approved for permits, including the size of the farm, its location, other crops already being grown there, and what the hemp would be used for.

"We're taking it very seriously to get the application process up and running very quickly because farmers have expressed interest in potentially trying to grow a fall crop or a winter crop," Leach said. "If there is interest, we want to give them that opportunity."

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Full Article: South Carolina officials finalizing application process for farmers to grow industrial hemp | Palmetto Politics | postandcourier.com
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