Hemp field

Industrial hemp field. 

Pennsylvania’s industrial hemp program research is drawing increasing interest from Lancaster County, despite no local farms participating in its initial run last year.

Bonnie McCann, spokeswoman for the state Agriculture Department, said four applicants from Lancaster County were among 39 that met the deadline to ask for state permission to grow hemp this year. All 39 applicants received initial approval.

The only local applicant publicly identified so far is Penn State University, which told LNP in January that it asked to move a small project started near University Park last year to its research station in Rapho Township, and that it expected approval.

McCann declined to identify the applicants or provide further details, saying they were “in various stages of completing the permitting process,” which includes submitting a $2,000 permit fee. She said a final count on how many received permits would not be available “for a while.”

Further proof of interest comes in news that two local state lawmakers have scheduled an informational meeting on “hemp production in Pennsylvania.”

Rep. Bryan Cutler of Peach Bottom said he and Rep. Keith Greiner of Upper Leacock Township planned the meeting “as a direct result of questions and inquiries from constituents who asked that we contact the Department of Agriculture on their behalf.”

The meeting is scheduled from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 27, at Daniel’s Farm Store, 324 Glenbrook Road, Leola. Those interested in attending are invited to contact Cutler’s office at 717-284-1965 or Greiner’s at 717-464-5285.

“Deputy Secretary Fred Strathmeyer will share information on the current process and how farmers can participate in the program,” an announcement said, also promising a question-and-answer period.

This year would be the first time hemp has been grown legally in Lancaster County since the plant was banned nationwide in 1937 because of its similarity to marijuana.

Program expansion

Last year, the state offered 30 permits of up to 5 acres each, and reported that in the end 14 growers produced a total of 36 acres statewide.

This year, 50 permits of up to 100 acres each were offered. McCann said the applications spanned nearly 1,000 acres in 25 counties.

Besides Lancaster, the counties are as follows: Adams, Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Perry, Somerset, Washington, Westmoreland and Wyoming.

About a third of this year’s applications are from those who grew hemp last year, McCann said.

How it’s allowed

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,” according to the department.

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.

“There is a considerable amount of interest in hemp and tremendous economic development potential—something we will try to enable through the next federal Farm Bill,” state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a news release.

He called allowing research “a good first step,” but said the potential of hemp “warrants the federal government allowing more extensive production. Legitimizing industrial hemp will give entrepreneurs the assurance they need to invest in this industry.”

The department cites a 2015 federal report that found hemp is used in more than 25,000 products worldwide, including automotive interiors, textiles, paper, foods, beverages and nutritional supplements.

“China and Canada dominate hemp production today, with the United States being the world’s largest importer of the cash crop,” the department said. “It is estimated to be a nearly $600 million industry in the U.S.”

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