Creating a Buzz – “Grow Hemp” Field Day

This is not marijuana

There is definitely a buzz. But not the kind you may be thinking. Yesterday I attended the “Grow Hemp” Field Day at Cedar Meadow Farm in Holtwood, PA. A number of experts, farmers, entrepreneurs, curious, and government agency representatives were present, including from the PA Department of Agriculture and the USDA.

The most remarkable thing is that, almost without exception, none of the experts claimed to be experts. Since growing hemp was only recently legalized, everyone is learning. There were a few with experience from previously legalized states like Colorado and California, and many have sought the experience of Canada, who has been growing hemp for decades.

Nonetheless, everyone learned something. The sharing of information on this versatile and remarkable plant is a common theme among the pioneers of hemp in PA. And why not? Pennsylvania was a major grower before it was banned, and even awhile afterward to provide hemp ropes to the Navy. Bron Irwin, of Keystone AgriScience, said he overheard those in states with a headstart saying they were ‘worried’ about Pennsylvania, and it’s excellent opportunity, especially in Lancaster County, where there is a rich history, good land, and experienced workforce.

So the race is on! And Pennsylvania is supporting this new crop vigorously, as demonstrated by representatives in attendance. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s all clear. There is still a lot of confusion due to the conflicting federal laws. But according to a recent congressional hearing and statements by agencies like the USDA and FDA, it won’t be long before things are cleared up. The USDA has promised to provide some temporary regulations in September that will be in force throughout the 2020 growing season.

A highlight was when Dr. William Faenza from Princeton University demonstrated a new handheld technical device to determine a plants makeup and more by simply pointing it at the plant, or even a part of the plant. Although important for determining the cannabinoid levels for labeling and regulation, it could also be very handy to law enforcement now caught in a conundrum due to the fact that industrial hemp looks and smells just like its cousin marijuana that packs the psychotropic punch, currently illegal for recreational use in the state.

Several industrial strains are already being grown in the state, including varieties for popular CBD and also fiber. Steve Groff, of Groff North America, spoke about their new Hemp Train that will process whole bales of biomass into it’s components. They even used a dual purpose variety to provide for both avenues of the industry (there are numerous industries but only 2-3 processed raw materials used for all).

A tasty lunch, abbreviated afternoon session, and it was out to the fields for specific Q&A and demonstrations. All in all, there was plenty to learn and lots of friendly faces. But there is one thing for sure, Pennsylvania is eager to take a lead in the new industrial hemp industry.

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