OUR POSITION: A statewide program to study the farming of hemp in Florida is kicking off at just the right time for farmers and others impacted by the economic slowdown.

Maybe some day, Florida farmers will be moving away from the “Beef: it’s what’s for dinner” slogan and leaving the production of oranges to South America. While that may be a little too much to ever expect, the prospects for a new crop taking over the state’s fertile fields is certainly exciting.

With canker ravaging much of their citrus crop, our farmers are looking to the future and that future could be hemp.

The federal government has approved the Florida Department of Agriculture’s plan for an experimental hemp growing program. Twenty farms from across 12 Florida counties have been selected for the UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project.

Two of those farms are in our backyard — Bar 4J Bar Ranch in Sarasota County and Bethel Farms in DeSoto County.

A 20-member panel looked at applications from farms all over Florida and selected farmers that could plant a hemp field, execute a coordinated field experiment and share the knowledge they gain to determine the best practices for growing the crop in the Sunshine State. The farms have the opportunity to grow up to five acres of hemp.

Give Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried a tip of the hat for expediting the experiment in Florida. She was given months to come up with a set of rules for growing hemp and, with the help of Holly Bell, who she appointed as state director of cannabis, she came through.

Hemp is a new crop with tons of potential for many reasons — not the least of which is the exploding market for its byproduct CBD.

Hemp has many uses, however. It can be used to make fabrics, lotions and numerous household products. But, anyone who has visited a grocery, convenience or drug store or a flea or farmers market, has to have noticed the well-stocked products that contain CBD. It is touted as a cure for aches and pains, insomnia and a dozen or so other ailments.

CBD is milked from the flower of the hemp plant. While both hemp and marijuana are associated with cannabis plants, hemp is legal because it contains less than 0.3% of TCH (by dry weight). THC is the ingredient that can cause a euphoric high in marijuana.

In an interview last summer, Gene McAvoy, then-regional vegetable extension agent for Southwest Florida, touted the potential for hemp to become a real money-maker for Florida farmers. But most importantly, McAvoy said, it could help replenish the more than 400,000 acres of citrus fields lost in the state in the past few years.

The trial run by farms like the two in Sarasota and DeSoto counties, will go a long way to see what diseases hemp crops will face and what types of soil is best for growing. In ideal conditions, McAvoy said, hemp can grow as high as Christmas trees.

“This is an excellent opportunity to grow our community with farmers that share the UF/IFAS mission to make information available broadly on growing hemp,” Zachary Brym, UF/IFAS agronomy assistant professor and hemp pilot project coordinator, told the Highland News-Sun.

We can’t wait to see the results and get some real data on the potential for hemp becoming one of Florida’s main crops.


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