Hemp farm Fort Meade

Craig Roth, left, Light Townsend, Jordan Pace and David Hasenauer posed in Fort Meade recently. Hasenauer, Pace and Townsend cofounded Green Point Research in 2016.

FORT MEADE – Less than a year after President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, making industrial hemp legal for interstate commerce, dozens of hemp farms have already been established across Florida.

Two are now located right here in Polk County.

When Florida state legislators met in March, they passed a bill into law establishing an agricultural hemp program in the Sunshine State. That bill was enacted into law July 1.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in August the first industrial hemp farm was established near Bartow, on a former citrus grove by Green Earth Cannaceuticals staff in partnership with Florida A&M University.

On Sept. 27, Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate professionals finalized the sale of Sunshine Growers, a 30-acre nursery just north of Fort Meade on the east side of U.S. 98, to Green Point Research staff for $2.15 million.

“This deal was interesting because the buyer’s goal is to be on the front end of the industrial hemp revolution,” Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate Senior Advisor Carson Futch said. “The licenses haven’t been issued yet, but this is our company’s first time being involved in a sale related to Florida’s up-and-coming hemp industry.”

A second set of public hearings were held regarding draft rules associated with commercial hemp cultivation in Florida this past Friday and Monday, in Tallahassee and Tampa, respectively. Once the public comment period ends Oct. 31, the final set of draft rules will be sent to Washington, D.C. for federal review.

Once passed, farmers should be able to apply for a state license to start growing hemp commercially in Florida.

David Hasenauer, Jordan Pace and Light Townsend co-founded Green Point Research in 2016. According to the company’s website, its goal is to help make hemp legal in Florida and, later, becoming the largest low-cost cultivator and processor of hemp biomass in the United States. The co-founders initially entered into a partnership with the University of Florida to study hemp cultivation in Florida. Now they are preparing to start growing commercially, once the final rules are approved.

Hemp is cannabis, but unlike marijuana, it does not get you “stoned” if consumed. Instead, industrial hemp can be used to create multiple consumer products.

According to the latest United States Department of Agriculture “Abandoned Citrus” report, there are more than 8,000 acres of abandoned citrus groves in Polk County, mostly groves devastated by the global epidemic of citrus greening. Many experts have suggested replacing citrus with hemp in Central Florida, a crop that literally grows like a weed and requires little water compared to citrus farming.

Many experts say the Upper Floridan Aquifer is drying out due to excessive pumping. The Polk Regional Water Cooperative board and staff are currently planning to build two desalination plants in Polk County, at a cost of nearly $1 billion, to make sure there is enough water available for the future.

The amount of water pumped out of the UFA in Polk County for agricultural use far exceeds the amount of water used by residents and business owners, according to Southwest Florida Water Management District documents. Advocates suggest that replacing citrus groves with hemp farms could, in theory, help dramatically with the area’s looming water availability issues.

The Sunshine Growers Fort Meade property was previously owned by Craig Roth. Roth will remain a key part of the operational management of the new Green Point Research property acquisition.

“After 33 years in business and nearly 13 years at the current location, we are excited for GPR to expand its agricultural reach by purchasing our turnkey facility to grow hemp starter plants to help farmers pivot to this new industry,” Roth said on a GPR website post.

The new facility has over 500,000 square-feet of existing greenhouse and shade house that GPR will use to grow hemp. The rest of the property is irrigated with both drip and overhead sprinklers that will be used for future expansion.

“Hemp plants are the way of the future,” said David Hasenauer, CEO of Green Point Research. “Our research has proven hemp to be a viable, sustainable and cost-effective crop for Florida. We intend to use our expertise in growing and producing hemp to help our farmers thrive and positively impact the economic development of our communities.”

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Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.

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