State Ag Department Greenlights 16 Promising Industrial Hemp Research Projects
Projects Mark Return of Hemp to PA following Gov. Wolf’s Signing of Act 92
Harrisburg, PA – After decades of being gone from the landscape of Pennsylvania, a promising and versatile crop with enormous market potential will soon be back in the Keystone State, according to state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.
Redding announced today that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has approved 16 research proposals that seek to demonstrate the value and viability of industrial hemp cultivation in the state. The projects were approved under the new Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program, which the department launched in December after Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly enacted Act 92 of 2016.
“Industrial hemp has a long history in the U.S. and in Pennsylvania, but it has been missing from the landscape since the mid-20th century,” explained Redding. “As a result, we have missed out on many economic opportunities. Thanks to the federal Farm Bill, Governor Wolf and the General Assembly, though, we now have the chance to re-establish this promising plant in Pennsylvania, which we believe could offer farmers tremendous new opportunities down the road. The first step in realizing those opportunities, however, is to demonstrate the viability and the potential of the plant through these research projects. Today marks an exciting milestone.”
Industrial hemp was grown commercially in the United States, and in Pennsylvania, through the World War II era, but became regulated along with marijuana in the 1950s and 1960s, prohibiting its cultivation. Industrial hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same species of plant. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp is grown for fiber and seed, and must maintain a concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, below the 0.3 percent legal threshold.
The 2014 Farm Bill opened the door to limited legal growth of industrial hemp as part of agricultural research pilot programs, and in July, Governor Wolf signed Act 92 to research the economic potential this crop could offer the commonwealth.
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. It is estimated to be a nearly $600 million industry in the U.S.
The 16 research applications approved today propose projects in 15 different counties, including Armstrong, Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Centre, Dauphin, Franklin, Lehigh, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Perry, Schuylkill and Westmoreland.
Most projects intend to build on existing knowledge of how to optimize industrial hemp production in Pennsylvania, including a better understanding of what varieties will grow well here and what farming practices are best for industrial hemp growth. Several explore novel characteristics of hemp growth, evaluating its potential as a cover crop to inhibit weed growth and its potential to remediate contaminated soils by absorbing contaminants, along with water and nutrition. Many of the projects include research on potential uses of the harvested stalks and seeds for animal bedding, feed, human food products, or manufactured goods.
“The level of thought that went into these proposals, along with the ingenuity and range of the underlying research questions, is impressive,” Redding said. “It is energizing to see the alliances that already have been created among academic, civic, farm and industry organizations. It is a reminder of the vibrant and resourceful agricultural community at the heart of our commonwealth.”
“We are grateful to these researchers for their commitment to build an industrial hemp industry in Pennsylvania, and we thank them for choosing to work with us as we take the first steps in that direction,” Redding added. “We are committed to working with growers to further refine and improve the program and to encourage and foster additional research that will lead to future opportunities for Pennsylvania agriculture.”
The department is awaiting approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to take possession of hemp seed needed for these research projects. The department has applied for a registration permit, and the DEA recently completed a site visit as part of its review process. While waiting for clearance to order seed, the department will work with researchers to secure a permit required under Pennsylvania’s Act 92.
For more information about the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov.