The UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project aims to study and share with Florida farmers sustainable methods by which to grow and profit from three types of hemp production: fiber, grain, and essential oils.
Researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) received approval from the UF Board of Trustees to develop hemp management and cropping systems that could be economically viable for the state. More than 30 states presently have industrial hemp projects, however Florida has a comparative advantage in growing season and markets.
To support the future viability and sustainability of an industrial hemp industry, preliminary assessment of the crop and cropping systems must be established prior to commercialization. The program will look to identify productive hemp varieties that can withstand environmental, ecological, and economic threats. Researchers will also study the risk of any hemp plants becoming invasive threats to Florida’s environment.
Industrial hemp plots will be established in three different locations across the state. The research program is approved by federal and state legislation, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and the UF Board of Trustees.
Industrial hemp growing in the field at a UF/IFAS research location | UF/IFAS photo
Hemp can be a new crop opportunity for farmers with a diversity of products and markets. The hemp industry is growing around the country, and Florida has the opportunity to leverage its unique farming and environment infrastructure to get involved.
Hemp is not marijuana, and has no psychoactive qualities. That's because the plant contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight. Marijuana is scientifically-defined by much higher levels of THC. However, marijuana and hemp share a plant species: Cannabis sativa.
Industrial hemp is a Cannabis sativa plant that has been grown for more than 10,000 years as both a fiber and grain crop. Practical applications include use for fiber, building materials, cattle forages, and pain relief. In terms of the latter, the topical oil Cannabidiol (CBD) has been researched as a means by which to reduce or eliminate various health complications, including chronic pain, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and similar.
There has been much progress this year on the Industrial Hemp Pilot Project. That includes securing 14 permitted locations with more than 30 participating faculty. Several research programs are underway, including variety trials, cropping system design, and invasion risk assessment.
Former UF/IFAS Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Jack Payne noted "in a decade leading Florida agricultural research and development, I've never seen such interest in an alternative crop." Payne led UF/IFAS during the development of the initial pilot project.
It's important to note, however, that hemp research doesn't overshadow other UF/IFAS endeavors. Instead, Payne said this study is approached with the same care and attention to detail as all other projects. "Hemp may someday become a profitable Florida crop. So too could peaches, olives, pomegranates, tea, or vanilla. UF/IFAS researches them all."