Industrial Hemp on the Radar for Florida Farmers and Researchers

Industrial Hemp on the Radar for Florida Farmers and Researchers

Industrial hemp in Kentucky

Hemp has many practical uses, including fiber, building materials, and forage — to name a few. Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food & Environment

The University of Florida Board of Trustees has given the OK for UF/IFAS researchers to develop industrial hemp management and cropping systems. The move is an important step to test the viability of what could become a valuable alternative crop for the state’s agriculture producers.

Industrial hemp, a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, has been cultivated for 10,000 years as a fiber and grain crop. In addition, industrial hemp has applications for building materials, plastics, forages, skin products, and even pain relief as a topical oil. Often confused with its Cannabis cousin marijuana, hemp contains considerably less of the psychoactive compound THC (< 0.3% per dry weight) and requires minimal care in cultivation as opposed to a carefully controlled environment.

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To support the possible future sustainability of an industrial hemp industry in the Sunshine State, preliminary assessment of the crop and cropping systems must be established prior to commercialization consideration. The research program will be seeking to identify productive varieties that can withstand environmental, ecological, and economic threats.

Researchers also will study the risk of any hemp plants becoming invasive threats to Florida’s environment.

More than 30 states presently have industrial hemp projects; however, Florida could cash in with its comparative advantage in growing season and markets. According to Jack Payne, UF Senior VP for Agriculture and Natural Resources, industrial hemp could be a significant alternative crop for Florida. “This research program will partner with industry groups and stakeholders to assess the break-even point for farmers and the commercialization opportunities for industry.”

Plans are to establish industrial hemp plots in four different locations across the state. “We are in the process of choosing locations in South, Central, and North Florida to encompass the broad range of climate and soils where hemp may be grown,” says Robert Gilbert, Professor and Chair of the UF/IFAS Agronomy Department.

In order to officially move forward however, the research program still must be approved by federal and state legislative entities. “We still need to obtain DEA approval to import certified industrial hemp seed, and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services approval to obtain planting permits for each experimental location,” Gilbert confirms.

Stay tuned.