Industrial hemp, such as this, will soon be growing in four University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences sites in Florida. / Photo courtesy UF/IFAS

Thanks to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, planning for an industrial-hemp pilot project has begun in the Sunshine State. Under the bill, passed by the U.S. Congress, industrial hemp became legal to grow nationwide after President Donald Trump signed the legislation on Dec. 20, 2018.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is overseeing UF’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Project. This spring, the first industrial-hemp crops are scheduled to be planted in Quincy (northwest of Tallahassee), Hague (northwest of Gainesville) and Homestead (southwest of Miami).

Another site — at the Bivens Arm research facility near the UF campus in Gainesville — will grow the hemp in its greenhouse and perform invasion risk assessment.

Goals for the pilot project

The project has three main goals, according to information supplied by UF’s Department of Agronomy:

1) Identify hemp varieties suitable for Florida’s various environments;

2) Develop the best management practices and cropping systems for growing, based on the geographical area in which the hemp is planted;

3) Assess the risk of hemp invasion in the state’s natural and developed environments and create ways to minimize that risk.

The research done by faculty and staff members of UF’s Department of Agronomy “will not involve any psychotropic investigations with seed and study-derived plant materials. … concentration of tetrahydrocannabinols will not exceed 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis,” the department says.

Can’t get “high” on industrial hemp

Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, is the main psychoactive ingredient in recreational cannabis. But industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa) contains a very low concentration of THC and cannot be used to get “high.”

UF’s pilot project is scheduled to last two years. Each of the three research sites will design “at least one cropping system most suited to the existing farming industries in their region and the goals of their prospective hemp industry. … Each system will be evaluated for plant growth and reproduction.”

During the first quarter of 2019, the Industrial Hemp Pilot Project’s timeline calls for site preparation at the three main growing sites, as well as for site prep and planting in the Bivens Arm greenhouse, where researchers will assess invasion risk.

During the second quarter …

“We are planning on getting plants in the ground this coming spring,” says Zack Brym, an assistant professor in UF’s Agronomy Department and the research coordinator for the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.

Each cropping system will also undergo an economic assessment to determine “the break-even price for sale of raw materials,” according to information that UF supplied.

UF has a list of 32 industrial-hemp varieties that might be used in the pilot project. They all are subject to approval, by the state and the federal governments, for seed import. Sources in at least seven countries, including China, Australia and Canada, are listed as potential suppliers. Colorado-based Centennial Seeds is also a potential supplier.

For stories on the history of hemp-related crops in Florida, visit floridafoodandfarm.com/farm/crop-failure-despite-great-promise-ramie-disappears and floridafoodandfarm.com/featured/in-1938-high-hopes-for-hemp-so-what-happened.