Pennsylvania has become the second state to submit a plan to grow and use industrial hemp.
Filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the plan calls for re-opening the state’s 2019 program to allow new applications for commercial growing operations.
Since 2016, Pennsylvania has allowed hemp cultivation only for research and limited its farming to 100 acres. Applicants for the 2019 program up until this point were applying under those conditions.
Changes adopted under a federal farm bill passed in late 2018 declassified hemp as a Schedule 1 drug and allowed for wider cultivation.
“The farm bill opened the door for states to have a program for the commercial farming of hemp,” said Shannon Powers, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
The state has approved 84 applicants to grow hemp for research, including the Rodale Institute in Kutztown. Under the new plan, the research program’s restrictions will be lifted, Powers said.
The Pennsylvania plan will also make hemp growers eligible for crop insurance, which they were not before.
The state has eliminated the cap on applicants and will work to approve new applications for commercial farming after it completes the original 84, which were mostly submitted before the farm bill was passed.
Powers said she expects strong interest in hemp farms, noting that many who have followed the issue closely had been hoping the law would change, including those who have already been harvesting crops for research.
“Two years of research has really put us on good footing to begin with commercial farming,” she said.
While previous restrictions have been lifted, Powers noted that there will still be some restrictions on hemp farming in the state
Pennsylvania’s plan would subject industrial hemp to the Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee, created under Act 46 of 2017, which would require all industrial hemp growers to register and obtain permits through the agricultural department.
“There are still concerns,” Powers said. “Longstanding legal concerns don’t just evaporate with the changing of the law.”
Still, Powers said people in agriculture in Pennsylvania for the most part feel positive about the future of commercial hemp farming in the state, thanks to the research that has already been conducted over the past two years.
“The findings have demonstrated what a good potential crop hemp can be for us,” she said.
Hemp was grown industrially in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States until after World War II, but became regulated along with marijuana and its cultivation was prohibited.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same species of plant. But industrial hemp is grown mainly for fiber and has a significantly lower concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol than marijuana does.
Some hurdles to commercial hemp farming still need to be crossed, however, because of the decades that have passed since hemp was last grown commercially. They include issues with sourcing of seeds and distribution infrastructure, Powers said.
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