Florida’s farmers may have a new crop to grow if the University of Florida is successful in a pilot project to grow industrial hemp across the state.
Researchers with the UF 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.
Industrial hemp is a Cannabis sativa plant that has been cultivated for 10,000 years as a fiber and grain crop. Industrial hemp may have applications for fiber, building materials, forages and pain relief as a topical oil.
It is not marijuana as it contains THC less than 0.3 percent per dry weight. THC is the psychoactive chemical that at higher levels defines marijuana.
More than 30 states presently have industrial hemp projects; however, Florida has a comparative advantage in growing season and markets.
“Industrial hemp could be a valuable and impactful alternative crop for Florida,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “This research program will partner with industry groups and stakeholders to assess the breakeven point for farmers and the commercialization opportunities for industry.”
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 four different locations across the state. The research program must be approved by federal and state legislation, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the university Board of Trustees.
By Ruth Borger, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences