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State opens application process for would-be hemp farmers

Industrial hemp is returning to Pennsylvania.

State regulators announced last week an industrial hemp program that will allow for cultivating and researching hemp in efforts overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Applications to grow hemp in 2017 are due Jan. 6.

Farmers who have been eyeing the state’s plans in anticipation of growing industrial hemp have mixed emotions about the program’s parameters.

Some were expecting a program with less costs and a lower regulatory bar, and are concerned the restrictions will diminish interest in growing hemp. Others are content with Pennsylvania’s focus on research.

The department says the program released for 2017 is just the beginning of what could be a “very attractive part of Pennsylvania’s future.”

Here are three things to know about Pennsylvania’s hemp program.

Growers capped at 30.

People who want to grow industrial hemp as part of the pilot program in Pennsylvania – individuals or institutions of higher education – can submit an application to the state for permission. Up to 30 applications will be approved in 2017.

The deadline to submit an application is 4 p.m. on Jan. 6. Applicants should receive notice somewhere between Jan. 31 and Feb. 17.

Hemp can be grown on up to five acres.

Approved hemp growers can plant hemp on a five-acre plot.

Applicants could use the plot to test best practices in crop production and pest management strategies or to research hemp’s use as biofuel or seed products, among other things.

Under the state guidelines, hemp growers will not be allowed to sell their product for commercial use, and all hemp plants must be destroyed at the conclusion of the project.

The state has established several fees for applicants.

The application fee is $250. The state also is charging a $3,000 administration fee per research project. In addition, each project must cover costs associated with inspection and testing, which can range in price from $15 to $200, depending on the service.

Researchers will also be charged $100 an hour when state staff come out to inspect their hemp plots.

The department estimated that it will spend $515,000 in the first year for staff and equipment to administer the program, according to a fiscal note attached to the legislation.

Lenay Ruhl

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