Florida’s fledgling hemp industry is starting to test its wings. As the UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project moves into its second year, along with a green light from USDA to cultivate the crop, on-farm research trials begin with commercial growers across the state. Twenty farms in 12 Florida counties have been selected for the trials. According to UF/IFAS, these farms are in different agricultural regions to provide a variety of conditions to study the growth and success of hemp across the state.
Zach Brym, UF/IFAS agronomy Assistant Professor and hemp pilot project coordinator, says grower applications were vetted thoroughly. A panel of 20 reviewers looked for farmers that could plant a hemp field, execute a coordinated field experiment, and share their farming knowledge to support the establishment of a hemp industry in Florida.
“When choosing growers, we looked carefully at each application to evaluate what each grower could bring to the project and if they could satisfy the objectives of the coordinated trial while meeting the required security measures,” Brym explained. “The selected farms will work on a coordinated research trial on two acres per farm to understand the impacts of the environment, or their soil and access to water, on how hemp grows. Growers have the option to include another three acres for an independent research trial focused on industry development.”
If growers choose to add the additional three acres, they are asked to submit a plan that states a clear research topic, achievable goals, and detailed methods for those three acres in the application, according to Brym. Examples of acceptable topics include variety trials, fertilizer trials, irrigation system design, equipment tests and others. Farmers will submit an annual report to the UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project of all activities pertaining to the UF/IFAS on-farm trial.
Hemp varieties will be planted at each farm to see how they perform under the differing conditions across the state.
On-farm trials with growers are just one of the new additions to the research. Experiments alongside industry supporters develop and expand as the project moves into its next phase.
“Our relationship with each industry partner is founded on the common goal of increasing hemp knowledge for growers across Florida,” adds Jerry Fankhauser, Lead Oversight Manager of the UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project.
With the on-farm trials focused on the performance of different hemp varieties at farms around the state, the research with industry partners focuses on propagation, accumulation of cannabinoids during plant growth and commercialization of hemp genetics.
“The goal alongside our industry partners is to better understand propagation and commercialization of the crop in the state of Florida,” Fankhauser said. “With commercial licenses to cultivate hemp being issued by FDACS, we are in an exciting next phase of the program because we have the opportunity to learn by working together.”
More info and research updates, can be found at https://programs.ifas.ufl.edu/hemp.