The Farm Bill was passed in 2014, which made it federally legal for institutions of higher education or state Departments of Agriculture to research the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. Fast forward to 2016’s Industrial Hemp Research Act, Number 92 in Pennsylvania—which launched the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program for the 2017 growing season—and we have the makings of a booming industry.
The pilot program is the first time hemp has legally grown in the commonwealth in 80 years, and in a year’s time it is expected to increase from just 50 acres of crops to more than 5,000 in 2018. According to Agriculture Secretary Redding, farmers must figure out how to harvest the plant before Pennsylvania hemp can be sold for commercial use. “So what do you want? Do you want the fibrous stems? Do you really just want the seed heads? All of that was part of a conversation and exploration this past year,” he explained to National Public Radio station 90.5 WESA.
This is where research comes into play. The Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program has focused on hemp variety comparison for suitability in Pennsylvania’s growing conditions, comparison of hemp’s capability for weed suppression to other crops, and the crops’ productivity in existing Pennsylvania farmland. According to Redding and current research, hemp could work as a double crop—when two different crops are grown on the same land in a single season. “Research . . . at Penn State (showed) that you can actually use industrial hemp as a double crop, behind wheat,” he noted to WESA. “I think if that plays out to be real, that is a game changer . . . You immediately change what options farmers have and you open up new markets.”
With these new developments, it’s no wonder Pennsylvania is set to increase acreage of industrial hemp one hundredfold in the next year. Researchers from institutions of higher education or individuals interested in being considered for participation in the growing 2018 program must submit an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program prior to January 19, 2018. Researchers who participated in the 2017 Pilot Program simply submit a renewal form and can continue their projects in the 2018 growing season.