Hemp Research Project Gaining Ground in Florida
Earlier this year, after much anticipation, a team of University of Florida researchers was given the go-ahead by the school’s board of trustees to develop cropping and management systems for industrial hemp. The decision helped push the Sunshine State into the green wave of momentum building behind commercial cultivation of the alternative crop.
Robert Gilbert, Professor and Chair of the UF/IFAS Agronomy Department and the lead oversight manager of the industrial hemp pilot project, says the possible future of an industrial hemp industry in Florida depends on preliminary assessment of the crop and sustainable cropping systems established before commercialization consideration. The pilot program is aiming to seek out viable varieties for the state that can withstand environmental, ecological, and economic risks.
Naturally, the unknowns are many about how the crop will fare in Florida. Just recently, several industrial hemp workshops were hosted by UF/IFAS around the state to familiarize interested growers and stakeholders with the crop and answer any questions they might have. Zachary Brym, UF/IFAS Assistant Professor and a lead contributor to the hemp pilot project, addressed impressive turnouts for each event.
“Folks were mostly curious about the details of the hemp pilot project, what ways they could get involved, and which of the many hemp cropping systems would be best suited ecologically and economically for their farm,” Brym says.
The workshops signaled a marked progression in the project to date. According to Brym, the enterprise has received funding to establish the first three UF/IFAS industrial hemp field trial locations – Quincy (Panhandle area), Hague (North-Central), and Homestead (South Florida). The locations are being strategically chosen to accommodate a wide range of climate and soils where the crop might be grown.
Other important pieces of the puzzle are falling into place for the project. Brym confirms they have received a DEA Schedule 1 import license as well as a provisional permit from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We will be importing seeds ASAP and plan to put plants in the ground during spring 2019,” Brym says.
Industrial hemp – a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant — has multiple known useful applications, such as for building materials, plastics, food, skin products, pain relief, and more. Consumer demand for these products continues to flourish.
UF/IFAS’ hemp pilot project joins a fraternity of more than 30 land grant universities that have been conducting field studies with the agronomic crop since the 2014 Farm Bill allowed for such research effort.
Speaking of the farm bill, the 2018 iteration is still under congressional review as of this post. The Senate version contained a measure backed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that would provide hemp legalized status. Hold tight. There’s more to come.