Leonard Inge and his partners started growing hemp in 2020. Photo credit: Long’s Photography
From cosmetics, lotions and pain creams to drywall, cement and protein powder, there are thousands of uses for industrial hemp – and Florida farmers are getting in on the action.
“The approval to grow hemp in Florida has always been a priority for Commissioner Nikki Fried because she saw the opportunities it would present to farmers,” says Holly Bell, director of cannabis at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). “It was a specialty crop that we wanted to add to a normal rotation.”
It wasn’t until recently that hemp could be legally grown in the U.S. As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp was made legal in all 50 states, though it came with many restrictions.
“It’s been a process,” Bell says. “After the Farm Bill was signed, the first bill in Florida was Senate Bill 1020, which became law in 2019.” That bill created the hemp program in the state under FDACS. Bell says they then continued writing rules to regulate the program, the last of which came into effect in April 2020.
See more: 5 Fun Facts About Hemp
Rules and Regulations
Because hemp is closely related to marijuana, there are several regulations covering its cultivation, not just in Florida but in the U.S. as a whole. Bell says there are two things that stand out about hemp in relation to other crop regulations: One is that farmers must obtain a license to grow hemp.
“To receive a license, they have to have a background check and can’t have a controlled substance conviction within the past 10 years,” Bell says.
The second is that farmers have to have their hemp tested by an independent lab when the crop is ready to be harvested. The THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) level in the hemp – the same chemical that causes psychotropic effects in marijuana – must be at .3% or less for it to be considered hemp. If it’s higher than that, the tested crop must be destroyed.
A Myriad of Uses
With hemp’s many applications, including cannabinoid oil (CBD), which has become increasingly popular over the past few years, Bell says Florida’s farmers are eager to grow the new crop, though more research is still needed.
“We need to continue to do research on hemp because there are different varieties that will grow in different parts of the state,” Bell says. “Farmers are planting smaller plots and experimenting to see what works well.”
Available in two varieties, the fast-growing crop has a growth cycle that’s only about 12 weeks. One variety is used to make CBD and other products with hemp oil, such as hair-care products and balms. The other variety is grown for the fiber and grain, which can be used to make everything from clothes to carpet.
“It’s a very environmentally friendly, biodegradable crop,” Bell says.
Leading the Pack
Several Florida farmers have already begun growing it, setting the standard for the future of the state’s hemp industry.
One farmer taking advantage of the new crop is Leonard Inge of Monticello, who started growing hemp in the summer of 2020. He and his partners started with a 5-acre plot, but they are growing in several locations in order to experiment with different growing conditions. Currently in the experimental stage, Inge is learning about this crop one day at a time. Inge and his team have passed all the state requirements and THC testing, and they are committed to following directions and asking for help as needed. They’ve even gotten in touch with some hemp consultants who have been a great resource.
Other hemp endeavors in the state include Newberry-based Green Earth Cannaceuticals, which is currently involved in the research of industrial hemp under Florida A&M University’s pilot project. The farm has experience cultivating medical marijuana, and it shares its expertise and consulting services with other cannabis growers.
Another operation dipping its toe into the hemp industry is V&B Farms of Homestead. Founded by two childhood friends, Tommy Vick and Brandon Boyd, V&B Farms specializes in growing high-quality produce for the wholesale market, retail and restaurants. They are applying their extensive horticultural knowledge to the burgeoning Florida hemp industry.
Though the crop is still new, Bell says the future looks bright.
“We are one of two states that regulate our entire program under one department, and others are looking to us for guidance and input on what we’re doing,” she says. “Because of that, people want to come here and do business.”