Pennsylvania is poised to grow potentially 30 times the number of industrial hemp acres it did in 2017, which according to state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is a clear indication of the enthusiasm around this nascent, but promising, industry.
Redding announced the Department of Agriculture approved 39 industrial hemp research applications on Feb. 15. If all applicants complete the permitting process, nearly 1,000 acres of hemp will be growing this spring. Last year, 14 growers produced a total of 36 acres statewide. About one third of those who applied to grow hemp this year are renewal requests from last year’s growers.
“Last year was the first year in seven decades industrial hemp was grown and harvested in Pennsylvania, and it was clear there was considerable interest,” said Redding.
The 39 approved projects will be conducted across 25 different counties — Adams, Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Perry, Somerset, Washington, Westmoreland and Wyoming.
Pennsylvania launched its Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program in December 2016 after Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 92 in June 2016. The 2014 federal Farm Bill paved the way for Pennsylvania’s program, allowing 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.
Wolf announced in December that the program would expand in 2018 to permit up to 50 growers to plant up to 100 acres apiece. Following the Jan. 19 application deadline, the department’s Bureau of Plant Industry reviewed applications, requested additional information to complete the permitting process, and verified FBI clearance records. Permits will be issued to successful applicants who submit the $2,000 permit fee, after which the bureau will submit seed orders to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA must permit the importation of hemp seed into the U.S.
Industrial hemp was grown commercially in the United States through the World War II era, but became regulated along with marijuana in the 1950s and 1960s, prohibiting its cultivation. Industrial hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same species of plant. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp is grown for fiber and seed, and must maintain a concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, below the 0.3 percent legal threshold.
To learn more about the state’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program, visit agriculture.pa.gov.