FIELDS OF GREEN

State en­cour­ages in­dus­trial hemp pro­duc­tion

The Record (Troy, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Paul Post ppost@digitalfirstmedia.com @paul­v­post on Twit­ter

AL­BANY, N.Y. » Eric We­ber and Adam Prior hope to get in on the ground floor of a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive new agri­cul­ture busi­ness.

They’re among the nearly three dozen peo­ple who turned out Tues­day for a work­shop, hosted by state of­fi­cials, to learn about the fast-grow­ing in­dus­trial hemp in­dus­try.

A state law, which took ef­fect ear­lier this year, al­lows peo­ple to apply for per­mits to raise hemp, which has an al­most lim­it­less num­ber of end uses such as fiber for build­ing ma­te­ri­als, grain for food prod­ucts, along with chem­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions for things like paint and bat­ter­ies.

“Any­thing that helps farms be more sus­tain­able is okay in my book,” said We­ber, who runs a hay­ing op­er­a­tion with Prior in ru­ral Al­bany County. “Farms have been hurt­ing long enough. They need as much help as pos­si­ble. For our op­er­a­tion, we’re al­ways try­ing to keep the cash flow going.”

Be­fore pro­ceed­ing, how­ever, they want to in­ves­ti­gate the costs, such as seed and fer­til­izer, and po­ten­tial sell­ing price for hemp, which they’ve heard might be three to five times higher than what they get for tra­di­tional crops.

“If it’s a low in­put-maximum out­put, ob­vi­ously it’s some­thing we could re­ally look into,” We­ber said.

“We’re going to make some phone calls and see what the pro­ces­sors have to say,” Prior said. “If the money’s re­ally there, rather than plant­ing rye on a new seed­ing, this seems like it could pro­duce more money.”

Cannabis plants used for in­dus­trial hemp are the same species as mar­i­juana, and are still a con­trolled sub­stance. But just like there are dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of ap­ples, the plants used for in­dus­trial hemp aren’t the same as mar­i­juana. The key dif­fer­ence is that in­dus­trial hemp must have less than .03 per­cent THC con­tent.

THC (tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol) is the mind-al­ter­ing chem­i­cal re­spon­si­ble for most of mar­i­juana’s psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects.

Crops raised by state-ap­proved grow­ers will be in­spected about two weeks prior to har­vest­ing when THC con­tent is high­est. Sam­ples will be sent to state labs. Crops that fail the test must be de­stroyed.

Peo­ple in­ter­ested in grow­ing hemp just apply to the state Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Mar­kets by Nov. 22. There is a $500 ap­pli­ca­tion fee and per­mits are good for three years.

How­ever, ev­ery grow­ing op­er­a­tion must have a re­search com­po­nent. The 2014 fed­eral Farm Bill al­lows state agri­cul­ture de­part­ments and uni­ver­si­ties to con­duct hemp re­search pi­lot pro­grams to study the growth, cul­ti­va­tion or mar­ket­ing of in­dus­trial hemp.

In New York, Cornell and Morrisville State Col­lege are do­ing such work.

Un­til last year, only 10 non-aca­demic grow­ers were al­lowed. A new state law opens the market to any­one who ap­plies to and is per­mit­ted by the state agri­cul­ture depart­ment.

“It’s not a very high bar to get the ap­proval as long as you don’t have a felony or drug-re­lated mis­de­meanor con­vic­tion, and you have a good re­search pro­posal,” said Tim Sweeney, agri­cul­ture depart­ment pol­icy an­a­lyst.

Re­search could be things such as op­ti­mal seed den­sity for grow­ing hemp, fer­til­izer re­quire­ments or how it af­fects soil health. Grow­ers must sub­mit re­ports to the state at the end of each sea­son.

The turn-around time for ap­pli­ca­tion ap­provals is ex­pected to be fairly quick, so grow­ers can plan plant­ing op­er­a­tions, se­cure good qual­ity seed sources, and find pro­ces­sors in­ter­ested in buy­ing their hemp.

Ob­tain­ing seed is one of the main ob­sta­cles to hemp pro­duc­tion be­cause there are cur­rently no pro­duc­ers in the state, it’s quite ex­pen­sive and highly reg­u­lated by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Both state and fed­eral per­mits are re­quired to buy seed, plus a fed­eral per­mit for im­ports from in­ter­na­tional sources such as Canada and Europe.

“The next bar­rier is our over­all lack of knowl­edge be­cause we haven’t grown hemp in New York state for decades,” said Larry Smart, a Cornell pro­fes­sor of hor­ti­cul­ture. “That’s just a mat­ter of time and re­search.”

Cornell is just com­plet­ing the sec­ond year of re­search tri­als both on-cam­pus, and at 24 farms from Cat­ta­rau­gus County in west­ern New York to Or­ange County in the lower Hud­son Val­ley.

The key to mak­ing hemp fi­nan­cially vi­able is con­vinc­ing enough farms to grow it, and hav­ing enough pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties to buy it, Smart said.

There are at least five pro­ces­sors in New York state in­clud­ing three in the Cap­i­tal Re­gion -- Hud­son River Foods in Castleton, Eco­v­a­tive De­sign in Troy and RAD Soap Com­pany in Al­bany. Hud­son River Foods of­fers hemp milk, frozen desserts, pro­tein sub­sti­tutes and other nondairy prod­ucts mainly for veg­e­tar­i­ans.

RAD uses 33,000 gal­lons of hemp oil per year to make soap. Oil now comes from Canada, but com­pany of­fi­cials would rather have lo­cal sources.

The core mis­sion of Eco­v­a­tive De­sign is devel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing of en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly build­ing ma­te­ri­als, such as fiber board, in in­stead of petroleum-based syn­thet­ics.

“There’s a com­pany that’s mak­ing hemp oil-based house paint,” said at­tor­ney Peter Stavropou­los, of the Den­ver, Colo.-based Hoban Law Group, which spe­cial­izes in cannabis is­sues. “From what I’ve heard its got bet­ter UV (ul­travi­o­let) and mold pro­tec­tion and bet­ter ther­mal in­su­la­tion prop­er­ties. I think hemp re­ally could be the next great in­dus­try for New York state. New York City is the state’s eco­nomic en­gine and you have smaller pock­ets through­out the state. This has tremen­dous po­ten­tial, given the num­ber of prod­ucts that can be made out of it. We have some of the great­est mar­kets on the planet in New York state. There’s no rea--

son why we can’t have the great­est hemp market.”

In­for­ma­tion from the state is avail­able by call­ing

1-877-249-6841 or email­ing: in­dus­tri­al­hemp­nys@agri­cul­ture.ny.gov.

In a re­lated ini­tia­tive, the state has made $5 mil­lion avail­able for grants up to $500,000 for in­vest­ments in in­dus­trial hemp pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

Grants will be awarded through Em­pire State Devel­op­ment, the state’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment agency.

For more in­for­ma­tion, log on to esd.ny.gov/ in­dus­trial-hemp.

NATIONAL HEMP AS­SO­CI­A­TION

Hemp grown on farms like this one in Ken­tucky is be­ing pushed by sup­port­ers as a sus­tain­able crop that re­quires no pes­ti­cides or chem­i­cal in­puts, is drought tol­er­ant and can pro­vide a source of tens of thou­sands of jobs.

PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY CORNELL UNIVER­SITY

Cornell Univer­sity work­ers plant a field of hemp for a re­search pro­ject to de­ter­mine which va­ri­eties are most suit­able for grow­ing in New York state.

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