Maine farmers look to reap benefits from hemp industry

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After years of prohibition, federal regulations have made it legal to grow hemp in the U.S. again, and many Maine farmers hope to cultivate success in this fledgling market.

Though hemp comes from the marijuana plant, by itself it does not have the same effect.

Since the December enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, which declassified hemp as a controlled substance, the number of hemp growers in Maine has grown exponentially.

According to figures from the state’s department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, in 2016 – the first year Maine issued growing licenses – there were two licensed growers for 0.25 acres. In 2019, there are roughly 170 licensed growers for 2,700 acres. The counties with the most grow sites are Somerset, with 42, and Oxford, with 25.

According to the National Hemp Association, about 90,000 acres of industrial hemp are being grown across the country.

“Hemp can grow nearly anywhere in the world, in many types of soil – even in short growing seasons or in dry regions – and helps purify soil as well as kills some types of weeds,” according to the association’s website.

The FDA is still drafting rules on how hemp products will be regulated. According to John Jemison, an agronomist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, valuable research hasn’t been conducted in recent decades because it was illegal.

“We know some of what we need to know to grow it,” Jemison told Maine Public Radio. However, research is lacking on best soil properties, pest management, plant spacing, harvest times and cost reduction opportunities.

“I wish we could have put the horse before the cart and done all the legwork – really known what it was supposed to do – and then been able to teach farmers, ‘This is what you need to do,’” Jemison said.

Maine law requires that industrial hemp be planted using a certified seed source, for example, in accordance with standards set by the Association of Seed Certifying Agencies, and comes from plants with 0.3 percent THC content or less.

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