Pennsylvania fields drop 75% but state officials still upbeat

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Despite a drastic reduction in hemp farming in 2020, Pennsylvania agriculture officials remain upbeat about the crop. Hemp fields totaled less than 1,000 acres last year, down about 75% from 2019, according to the Department of Agriculture (PDA).

PDA attributed the falloff in hemp farming to a crash that hit the CBD market in late 2019, brought on by a glut in supply and hampered by a shortage of processing capacity after the 2018 Farm Bill fully legalized hemp.

Most Pennsylvania farmers have concentrated their efforts on growing hemp for flowers to make CBD, while a few grew for fiber over the last 2 years. At least one Pennsylvania initiative is under way to develop a hemp fiber decortication factory in the western part of the state.

‘Unique opportunity’

“Hemp has presented a unique opportunity to build an industry from the ground up, supplying seemingly limitless environmentally sustainable construction materials, industrial fiber and food products, just to name a few,” state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said last week in a statement announcing a round of marketing grants.

In 2020, the PDA issued 510 growing permits and 65 processing permits. Less than half of Pennsylvania’s 2020 crops were harvested, state officials said, with most of the rest lost to weather and pests. Some crops had to be destroyed because they exceeded the allowable level of 0.3% THC, the agency reported.

Under the recently announced grants, the PDA is making $253,000 in state money available to nonprofit marketing and promotion organizations working on projects to increase the sale of the state’s hemp products. Applications for the grants are open through March 5.

Bringing hemp back

“These competitive grants can help cultivate the growth of the industry that was once a staple of Pennsylvania’s economy and could once again support new jobs and income for Pennsylvanians,” Redding said.

Hemp projects in Pennsylvania have also been funded by the PDA under a separate $1.3 million research program aimed at advancing innovation in medicine, sustainability and food supply; and last year five of 13 specialty crop block grants went to hemp enterprises.

Pennsylvania’s hemp program is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Changes announced for 2021 include:

  • Lowering of the minimum number of plants from 300 to 150 for outdoor growers and 200 to 100 for indoor growers to allow less risky trials.
  • The Department will issue research permits for institutions of higher education and research institutions, and for smaller scale research not resulting in commercial activity.
  • A requirement for signage at grow sites was removed, although PDA still recommends signage as a best management practice.
  • If laboratory results for a hemp lot is below the 0.3% THC compliance level, crops can be transported under a Certificate of Analysis without a separate letter of clearance from PDA.
  • All hemp grown in Pennsylvania must be sampled by an independent sampling agent and submitted to a laboratory for THC testing.

The PDA is now accepting hemp license applications for the 2021 growing season.

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