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Scientists Expanding Work To Help Farmers Learn About Industrial Hemp

 


With the passage of the 2018 federal farm bill and new regulations that allow the crop to be grown for sale for a range of uses, hemp production in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania has taken off, with more than 300 permits approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture this year.

“Industrial hemp is spurring excitement among Pennsylvania growers and nongrowers alike,” said Alyssa Collins, director of Penn State’s Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Manheim, Lancaster County.

Industrial hemp – a variety of the cannabis plant – is a renewable resource grown for raw materials that can be used to make thousands of goods. Its fiber and stalks are used in clothing, carpeting, paper, biofuel and construction products, and its seeds and flowers can be found in vegetable oils, organic body products and health foods and supplements, such as the now popular cannabidiol or CBD oils.

Though it cannot get a person “high” like another plant in the cannabis family – marijuana – hemp’s production was banned – unfairly, according to many – under the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.

Pa. trying to lead

Even before hemp was green-lighted by the federal government, Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences was at the forefront of industrial hemp research in Pennsylvania. The university was one of 16 sites approved by the state as part of a pilot program for industrial hemp growth and cultivation research following Gov. Tom Wolf's signing of the Industrial Hemp Research Act in 2016.

An interdisciplinary team originally led by Greg Roth, professor emeritus of agronomy in the Department of Plant Science, spearheaded hemp research and outreach efforts at Penn State.

Studies continue

Now in its second phase, the hemp variety trials have been relocated to the research and extension center in Manheim and are under the direction of Collins and Jeffrey Graybill, a Penn State Extension agronomy educator.

They are building on Roth’s earlier work focused on production, while Jude Liu, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, has joined the effort and is testing machine/equipment manufacturing processing techniques for fiber in his lab at University Park. Demonstration crop trials also have been planted at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, Centre County, this year.

Hemp education and outreach has been ongoing, beginning with a hemp field day in July 2017, when a group of crop scientists, extension educators, industry professionals and state officials met with Roth at Rock Springs to tour the hemp research plots. A similar field day is being planned for later this summer at the Manheim site, Collins noted.

Hemp also has been a hot topic at Penn State’s annual Ag Progress Days event and at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Editor’s Note: More information can be found at the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/industrial-hemp-production.

 

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