Pa. plans to open industrial hemp program to commercial growers

Alyssa Collins with Penn State Extension shows a hemp plant that grew after the main experiment was harvested. Under guidelines from the state Department of Agriculture, any plants that spring up outside the parameters of the research period would have to be destroyed. (Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

Alyssa Collins with Penn State Extension shows a hemp plant that grew after the main experiment was harvested. Under guidelines from the state Department of Agriculture, any plants that spring up outside the parameters of the research period would have to be destroyed. (Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Department is opening up its hemp program, pending approval from the federal government.

The commonwealth has run a pilot program for industrial hemp over the past two years, but it was only open to entities growing the crop for research.

Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Department of Agriculture, said those who want to grow industrial hemp commercially can now apply for a permit.

“And there’s more incentive to do so now,” Powers said. “Growers are not taking on 100 percent of the risk, like they were before. They’re now eligible for crop insurance, for example.”

The latest move comes after the 2018 federal Farm Bill separated hemp from its cousin marijuana, by removing hemp from the controlled substances list.

Powers said the crop will still be regulated.

“So it’s not a free for all, anybody can grow hemp anywhere, under any conditions. There are still concerns that require controlling the growth of hemp,” Powers said.

For example, hemp crops will need to be tested for THC, the chemical that causes a high. Too much, and the crop has to be destroyed.

Powers says they hope to create a sustainable industry for hemp in Pennsylvania that could help farmers diversify their incomes.

But first, there needs to be more research and development of a supply chain for buying and selling hemp products.

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