Area farmers learned about industrial hemp research in the state and other issues affecting them at an annual breakfast hosted by state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Twp., at Tom’s County Kitchen on Friday morning.
Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce President Mary Malone welcomed more than 30 farmers from the area and introduced the keynote speaker, Fred Strathmeyer Jr., the state Department of Agriculture deputy secretary for plant industry and consumer protection, who talked about a research pilot program on growing industrial hemp.
Last year was the first year industrial hemp was grown legally in the state since 1937, when it became regulated as a controlled substance along with marijuana. Industrial hemp has 0.3 percent or less THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, Strathmeyer said. Anything higher would be on the marijuana side, he said.
Industrial hemp is grown for its fibers and seeds, which can be processed into other products such as molded plastics or cooking oils, Strathmeyer said.
Sixteen farmers and universities took part in the research pilot last year, farming 70 acres of industrial hemp, he said. Forty people applied this year to farm more than 1,000 acres, Strathmeyer said.
So far, they’ve learned that industrial hemp is a decent pollinator, it needs good soil preparation and weeds can be a problem, he said. Harvesting is also hard on normal combines due to the strength of the fibers, he added.
They’ve also worked with state police to let them know who and where people are growing industrial hemp legally, in case someone reports the farmer as growing a plant classed as a Schedule 1 drug, Strathmeyer said.
Products made with industrial hemp would be coming into the country from other places, such as Canada, as there isn’t a market for it here, as it’s illegal, he said. That could change in the upcoming farm bill, he said.
They would need to find a marketplace for industrial hemp to make farming it viable, Strathmeyer said.
“It’s going to take time,” he said.