Not pot: Hemp farms take root un­der state pi­lot pro­grams

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Mary Esch

A lush field of cannabis grow­ing on a se­cluded hill­top in cen­tral New York may look and smell like mar­i­juana, but its myr­iad uses don’t in­clude get­ting high.

New York’s first le­gal hemp farm in decades has taken root un­der a pi­lot pro­gram that’s part of a na­tional resur­gence of a plant that’s prized for mak­ing food, cloth­ing and shel­ter, but long banned along with its smok­able cousin.

“The ver­sa­til­ity of this crop is amaz­ing,” said JD Farms co-owner Mark Justh, who left an in­ter­na­tional fi­nance ca­reer to grow or­ganic hay and pas­tured beef cat­tle and pigs on farm­land 170 miles north­west of New York City. He added or­ganic hemp to the mix this sum­mer un­der a re­search part­ner­ship with Mor­risville State Col­lege.

Be­cause of its re­sem­blance to mar­i­juana, the hemp field at JD Farms had a prom­i­nent “No Tres­pass­ing” sign that ad­vises “No THC.” Even if mar­i­juana plants were hid­den among the hemp, cross-pol­li­na­tion would ren­der the pot im­po­tent.

Hemp has been used for mil­len­nia as a source of oil, pro­tein and fiber used in cloth­ing, rope and pa­per. Modern uses in­clude cos­met­ics, nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments, bio­fu­els, build­ing ma­te­ri­als and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Justh was think­ing of grow­ing it sim­ply as a cover crop — a crop grown for soil en­rich­ment — when he met Dan Dol­gin, who was look­ing to part­ner with a farmer to grow it for its broad mar­ket po­ten­tial. Dol­gin, who had worked in na­tional se­cu­rity in Wash­ing­ton, fell in love with the farm and bought into it. He’s now ren­o­vat­ing a farm­house there near the log cabin where Justh and his wife and teenage sons live when they’re not at their home in Brook­lyn’s Park Slope.

“Hemp is a triple-value crop, with a mul­ti­tude of prod­ucts made from the seeds, stalks and fiber,” Dol­gin said. “We hope the re­sults of what we’re do­ing here will con­vince other farm­ers that this is a great op­por­tu­nity.”

The trade group Vote Hemp es­ti­mates the value of hemp prod­ucts in the U.S. at $600 mil­lion. But that’s based on im­ports be­cause U.S. farm­ers weren’t al­lowed to grow it un­til now.

Since the “reefer mad­ness” war on mar­i­juana in the mid-20th cen­tury, the U.S. has been the only in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tion where hemp farm­ing was il­le­gal. In­dus­trial hemp and mar­i­juana are both forms of cannabis, but hemp lacks the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent THC.

The 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, which de­fined hemp as dis­tinct from mar­i­juana, cleared the way for states to reg­u­late it for re­search and pi­lot pro­grams. Since then, 29 states have passed hemp leg­is­la­tion and nine have es­tab­lished pi­lot pro­grams li­cens­ing pro­duc­tion, ac­cord­ing to the trade group Vote Hemp. About 12,000 acres were planted this year, pri­mar­ily in Colorado, Ken­tucky and Ten­nessee, the group said.

Un­der New York hemp reg­u­la­tions fi­nal­ized ear­lier this year, farm­ers must part­ner with a uni­ver­sity to get a li­cense. The 30-acre hemp plot at 1,200-acre JD Farms, the state’s only hemp farm so far, is paired with nearby Mor­risville State Col­lege, which is con­duct­ing hemp re­search.

The re­quire­ment for a uni­ver­sity part­ner­ship has de­terred some farm­ers from get­ting into hemp.

“I’d love to be able to get into it right away, but the re­search part­ner­ship com­pli­cates things,” said Phil Hodges, a friend of Justh who splits his time be­tween Wall Street bond trad­ing and a crop and cat­tle farm he’s de­vel­op­ing up­state. He hopes to plant some hemp next year if the state be­gins to li­cense farm­ers di­rectly. “It’s a huge op­por­tu­nity for farm­ers, an un­touched mar­ket.”


In this Sept. 25 photo, Dan Dol­gin, left, and Mark Justh ex­am­ine seeds from hemp plants on their JD Farms in Ea­ton, N.Y. JD Farms in cen­tral New York har­vested the state’s first le­gal hemp this fall un­der a uni­ver­sity re­search part­ner­ship.

This Sept. 25 photo shows seeds from the first le­gal crop of in­dus­trial hemp grown on JD Farms in Ea­ton, N.Y.

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