Reintroduction of crop could lead to promising market opportunities
Harrisburg, PA - A promising and versatile crop that was prevalent throughout colonial America and in much of Pennsylvania until the mid-20th century is getting another look after Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 967 allowing for pilot research programs using industrial hemp.
Industrial hemp had been a popular cash crop for many farmers until states and the federal government began to hinder and outlaw its production, as well as that of the closely related marijuana plant, beginning in the mid-20th century. Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp’s low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol do not allow for any psychoactive effects, and its many potential uses make it an attractive agricultural commodity for a number of industries.
"Industrial hemp has a long history in this country and in this state, as proof look at the number of town and township names that have hemp incorporated into them," said Agriculture Secretary Russell C. Redding. "We lost a promising and lucrative market for the last half-century, as a result of guilty association with marijuana. There are all sorts of products that use hemp today – it’s estimated to be a nearly $600 million industry in the U.S. – but those dollars are going to growers in other countries rather than our producers. With Governor Wolf signing HB 967, we’re taking a first step to see what varieties of hemp can be grown here and what markets exist for those varieties."
A 2015 report from the Congressional Research Service found that hemp is used in more than 25,000 products worldwide, including automotive interiors, textiles, paper, foods, beverages and nutritional supplements among others. China and Canada dominate hemp production today, with the United States being the world’s largest importer of the cash crop.
House Bill 967, now Act 92, allows the Department of Agriculture or an institution of higher education to conduct pilot programs to research and study the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp products in the state. Sites used to grow hemp must be certified and registered with the department and authorized to oversee and enforce all regulations pertaining to the program. The 2014 Farm Bill paved the way for these pilot programs.
"Having this opportunity in Pennsylvania is a win for the commonwealth and for agriculture," added Redding. "I sincerely thank Governor Wolf, members of the General Assembly and the multiple stakeholder groups for their leadership and work to get this piece of legislation across the finish line. This has been a priority for the administration, and we’re pleased to see it become a reality."
Redding added that the department intends to convene a stakeholder group of public and private members to serve as an advisory committee on hemp research. From these initial discussions, the department will develop policies and procedures under the new law to implement the pilot projects. Full implementation could take up to a year.
For more information about House Bill 967 and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov.
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