December 06, 2017

Pennsylvania plans vast expansion of industrial hemp research in 2018

Agriculture Hemp
Industrial Hemp  Dylan Lovan/AP Photo

In this Sept. 23, 2014, file photo, a tractor cuts a small plot of hemp at a University of Kentucky research plot near Lexington, Ky.

Two years after the reintroduction of hemp as an industrial crop, Pennsylvania is planning a major expansion of research opportunities for growers across the state in 2018.

In 2016, Pennsylvania joined a growing number of states to remove barriers to hemp production, a shift enabled by the 2014 federal farm bill's distinction of the cannabis crop from marijuana. 

Industrial hemp, despite possessing levels of THC too low to provide any psychoactive effect, had been federally hindered in the United States since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. After experiencing a brief resurgence during World War II, rigid restrictions in the Controlled Substances Act brought the industry to a halt in the 1970's, turning the United States into one of the world's largest importers of hemp.

Last year, Pennsylvania's limited research program for individual growers and institutions of higher education covered fewer than 50 acres. In 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday, that number will increase to as many as 5,000 acres.

“Hemp had a long history in Pennsylvania until it disappeared from the landscape half-a-century ago, but now, I’m excited that we’ve brought it back and we’re creating new agricultural opportunities in the process,” Wolf said. “Last year was a learning experience for growers and the Department of Agriculture alike, but even with the small-scale research pilot projects of 2017, it was clear there is a tremendous enthusiasm among growers. Our expanded program is designed to capitalize on this interest in 2018.”

Hemp has been used to produce food, fiber and seed for thousands of years, offering a plentiful resource for rope, paper, clothing, textiles and more recently plastics and biofuels. It is considered an environmentally friendly, climate resilient plant that requires few chemicals and minimal water use to thrive.

Some of last year's research projects focused on the seasonal effects of planting, the role and pressure of insects in hemp cultivation, the capacity to suppress other weeds and an evaluation of hemp as an animal feed ingredient.

“The 2017 growing season was incredibly informative for us,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “We learned about the challenges of sourcing seed, controlling weeds, harvesting, and finding markets. Each of last year’s 14 projects taught us something valuable, and we’re pleased that every one of those project leaders are likely to reapply next year. We expect to see the full potential of this industry in 2018.”

Growers who participated in the 2017 pilot research program may opt to renew their permits to continue an existing project or submit a proposal for a new project. Those who aspire to grow hemp must complete and return the 2018 Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program permit application before the deadline on January 19, 2018.

Permit applications and additional information can be found on the Department of Agriculture's industrial hemp website.