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State set for 1,000 acres of hemp by spring

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In another sign of growth for the revived commodity, industrial hemp could soon be growing on 1,000 acres across Pennsylvania, according to estimates from the Department of Agriculture.

The department last week approved 39 new hemp growing projects set to span an accumulated 1,000 acres, up from 14 projects across 36 acres in 2017.  

According to an announcement from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, the state expects 50 programs to be growing hemp across 5,000 acres by years end.

Industrial hemp growth was largely limited by a wave of state and federal regulations passed during the 1950s and 1960s. Industrial hemp and cannabis used for recreational and medical purposes are different strains of the same species of plant, known as cannabis sativa.

The surface similarities often caused the hemp industry to be grouped with the illicit drug trade by state and federal guidelines even though the industrial variety has significantly less of the active ingredient - known as THC - found in recreational and medical varieties

But in 2014, a federal farm bill allowed states to conduct pilot programs to grow hemp for research purposes.

In July 2016, Wolf signed Act 92 establishing Pennsylvania's pilot program, as well as the Hemp Research Board, which fleshed out regulations for hemp projects.

According to the program parameters made available by the Department of Agriculture, individuals and institutions can apply for a license to grow hemp and must provide GPS coordinates for the hemp’s location and the aims of their research. The department does not list the locations of each grower, but did note in its announcement that there are locations in Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster counties.

Once approved, researchers must re-apply for licensing annually and submit quarterly updates to the department on the progress of their research. Growers may sell the products of their projects if it's counted as marketing research, according to the program’s website.

The department saw continued growth of the research program as a good sign.

"We’re pleased with the response and the enthusiasm around this promising and versatile crop," said state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

Industrial hemp has over 25,000 production uses including the production of hemp-based textiles, biofuels, cosmetics and food, according to a 2015 study from the Congressional Research Service.

Pennsylvania joins 15 other states with hemp-production programs. The largest is in Colorado, where 376 growers are cultivating 8,975 acres of the plant, according to the report.

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Gillian Branstetter

Gillian Branstetter

Gillian Branstetter covers health care news for the Central Penn Business Journal. Email her at

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