Enthusiasm for industrial-scale hemp production in Pennsylvania has grown, well, like a weed.
On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the state government significantly will expand opportunities for hemp production and research. This year growers produced state-permitted hemp crops on just 50 acres statewide; in 2018 the state will issue permits for production on up to 5,000 acres.
Hemp has at least 25,000 uses, as noted by the state Department of Agriculture. It is relatively easy to grow and adaptable to many different climate and soil conditions. That’s why it was a mainstay crop around the world for thousands of years, and for all of U.S. history until 1937. Then, the federal government outlawed marijuana and hemp along with it, even though hemp contains only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive chemical agent in marijuana.
The 2014 federal farm bill authorized renewed limited hemp production under state regulation and Wolf signed the Industrial Hemp Research Act in 2016. It allows academic researchers or private growers contracted by the Department of Agriculture to apply for permits to grow hemp for research purposes. Last year the state issued 14 permits for no more than 5 acres each; next year it will make available 100 permits covering up to 50 acres each.
According to Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, the 14 projects produced valuable technical data on everything from seed-sourcing to harvesting. He said that all 14 producers will seek new permits.
In colonial times Pennsylvania produced large hemp crops. The material was used for products ranging from clothing to paper to sails.
Today, the potential product list includes fiber, but it also can be used for biofuels, biomass energy generation, animal feed and cholesterol-reducing medicine, among many others.
As the state expands the research program, it should start identifying and building markets so that hemp once again can be a highly valuable component of the agricultural economy.
—The (Scranton) Times-Tribune