What’s the Buzz About Hemp?

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By the recent number of inquiries at the office, interest in industrial hemp production appears to be gaining momentum like a runaway train. The passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, although passed in 2015, provided individual states the ability to implement industrial hemp research programs to allow farmers, land-grant universities, and processors to begin growing the crop on a limited basis. As a result, the N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission was formed in late 2016 to administer the pilot program to learn about a crop that had been prohibited for over 200 years. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp plants contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the substance that delivers the mind-altering effects.

As of the beginning of February, North Carolina has 502 licensed growers producing hemp on 2,876,914 square feet of greenhouse space and almost 6,382 acres around the state. There are currently 337 registered processors in North Carolina as well. With the decline in traditional commodity prices, these numbers reflect the fact that many farmers are looking for the next big cash crop to include in their operations. The recent passage of the 2018 Farm Bill was another progressive step forward for industrial hemp. A recent article in the U.S. Hemp Roundtable highlighted some of the major changes for hemp, which includes the end of hemp prohibition by permanently removing it from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). This allows hemp to be recognized as a legal agricultural commodity, paving the way for farmers to have needed access to crop insurance and other United States Department of Agriculture programs. By redefining hemp to include its extracts, cannabinoids (CBD), and derivatives, Congress has provided language that no longer includes hemp as a controlled substance overseen by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This should make life easier by allowing legal transportation and shipping to other states.

However, the new 2018 Farm Bill does not change the requirement for North Carolina hemp growers to have a license for the near future. It also does not interfere with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority over CBD as a human or animal consumable, such as food, feed, topical, drug, or supplement. According to a recent press release from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “FDA still does not allow CBD in consumables and encourages consumers to be smart shoppers and ask questions before choosing to purchase any tincture that contains CBD or hemp extract. Find out how the product is manufactured, if the company has purity standards, and what the potency may be.”

Although North Carolina has two production seasons under its belt under the pilot program, it appears there is still much to be learned. Our two land-grant universities, NC State University and N.C. A&T State University are leading the way on hemp research. Informational meetings about production, regulation, and processing are currently being held around the state by North Carolina Cooperative Extension. One such meeting will be offered on March 5, 2019, from 3–5 p.m. at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Scotland County Center, located at 231 E. Cronly Street in Laurinburg. Interested growers are encouraged to attend. Seating is limited to 90 guests, so reserve a spot by calling 910-671-3276. More information about industrial hemp can be found online at NC State Extension’s Industrial Hemp page or the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ website.

For more information, contact Mac Malloy, Extension Field Crops Agent, at 910-671-3276, by E-mail at Mac_Malloy@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.

NC State University and N.C. A&T State University are collectively committed to positive action to secure equal opportunity and prohibit discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, and veteran status. NC State University, N.C. A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.