OUR POSITION: Hemp is a great opportunity for Florida farmers and a potential replacement crop for lost citrus acreage.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is on the clock.

Fried is charged with coming up with a set of rules for growing hemp in the state. To make that happen she has appointed Holly Bell as the state director of cannabis. Catchy title, don’t you think. Of course Fried considers herself the state’s cannabis regulator — which she actually is.

The state Legislature has approved hemp as a Florida crop, but before farmers can begin growing it, Fried must come up with a set of rules and have them approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Gene McAvoy, regional vegetable extension agent for Southwest Florida.

Once that is done, it is quite possible the floodgates could open for hemp production. McAvoy predicts the first of the year at worst and December at best for digging up Florida’s fields for hemp.

So why is hemp so attractive?

Two reasons really. First, it is a crop that has numerous uses. The most publicized, and most valuable, is the production of CBD. The product is milked from the flower on the hemp plant and is ballyhooed as a cure for most all aches and pains — not to mention a mood enhancer.

But there are other uses for hemp. They range from construction, to the making of fabrics to lotions and other household products.

McAvoy said interest in the crop is intensifying in counties like DeSoto, Charlotte and Sarasota.

“People have been bringing in soil for testing to make sure their land is suitable for growing hemp,” he said.

Hemp may never be as big as citrus in Florida but it has the potential to blunt the blow the citrus industry has endured because of greening disease, development and hurricanes. In all, McAvoy said, the state has lost more than 400,000 acres of citrus production over the past few years.

McAvoy said hemp could be popular because it is not difficult to grow.

“It’s like any other crop, though,” he said, “it has diseases that affect it and some insects. We are seeing what diseases and issues impact it by looking at what they are doing in North Carolina and South Carolina, where it is already legal.”

The ideal conditions would allow for hemp to be grown as high as a Christmas tree, McAvoy said. But that is a challenge because Florida’s days are shorter than summer days up north.

“The closer you get to the equator the more you have exactly 12-hour days,” he noted. “In Alaska, you know, you have 24-hour days. Indiana, Kentucky and some of those states have 14 and 16-hour summer days (so their hemp growing conditions are more ideal).”

The potential for hemp to present local farmers with a money-making crop is great. Hemp, which we emphasize is different than marijuana, is a key ingredient for many products that are already on store shelves in our area. If you need proof check out the body lotion aisle at Walmart.

We applaud the Legislature for opening the door and Fried for quickly initiating a plan to get the crop in the ground here sooner than later.

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