Pennsylvania Hemp Summit Offers Hemp Growers Food for Thought

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Hemp farmers, processors, policy experts and advocates convened again in hopes of sharing knowledge, resources, and camaraderie at this year’s Pennsylvania Hemp Summit, held virtually Nov. 2-4.

There were five virtual sessions spread over three days, starting with a basic overview of resources available for farmers, especially those who are new to the world of agriculture, of which there are more than you’d think. Hemp is proving to be a gateway crop for many young, entrepreneurial farmers.

Alyssa Collins, director of Penn State’s research farm in Lancaster County, opened with the magnitude of resources made available to farmers from land-grant universities and state Extension programs.

Every county in Pennsylvania, she said, has one or more Extension educators based in that county.

“And those are usually the people that you're calling up and saying, ‘Hey, I've got this problem, I've got this issue in my field,’” she said.

Because Extension is county-based, educators know where a farmer is coming from; they know the local soil and conditions, and they can come out to the farm and help troubleshoot.

Collins and other panelists also discussed improving soil health, planning for farm succession, renting land, and generally remembering the Golden Rule.

Hemp Grain as Livestock Feed

The second summit session was about hemp as livestock feed. From protein concentrates to seed oils and cake, hemp grain is on the legal cusp of entering several markets as feed for livestock and companion animals.

Hemp seed has been generally regarded as safe for human consumption by USDA for years, but it is still illegal in most states to use hemp as a livestock feed, said Hunter Buffington, former executive director of the Hemp Feed Coalition.

Courtney Moran, with Agricultural Hemp Solutions, said that hemp feed requires approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine before it can enter the marketplace.

But gaining federal approval will prove burdensome. Each species and subspecies, such as layer hens and broilers, must be tested separately, and these tests cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

Hemp Policy in Pennsylvania

On Day Two of the summit, attendees were greeted by Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding, who reaffirmed Pennsylvania's commitment to hemp and to building a strong hemp industry in the commonwealth.

“Enthusiasm for the hemp industry remains palpable here in the Department of Agriculture,” he said.

But he said stakeholders must remain realistic about the amount of work yet to be done in regard to research, marketing and advocacy, and “to making sure we get the right policies and programs around what we're doing.”

His remarks led into a discussion on state and federal policy with officials from both the USDA and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Bill Richmond, chief of the U.S. domestic hemp production program at USDA’s Ag Marketing Service, spoke about some of the changes in USDA’s final hemp rule that went into effect last March, and he mentioned performance-based sampling.

“What that means in practice is if a grower is growing for grain or they're using seed from a certified list,” he said, “the state can include custom requirements for those certain categories of individuals to reflect those special growing categories.”

That system makes it possible that certain growers would “not have to have samples taken and tests run, or they may not be subject to the same volume of sampling and testing that another grower would,” Richmond said.

The fourth session covered some of the new opportunities for manufacturing and innovation that have developed around the emerging hemp industry, including the advent of hemp-based bioplastics and hempcrete construction.

This section included a presentation on the Project PA Hemp Home, a hempcrete project led by DON Services in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and partially funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

What is Delta-8 THC?

And the final session was an explainer on delta-8 THC, a cannabinoid naturally occurring in industrial hemp at very low levels.

Through creative chemistry processes, other cannabinoids can be converted to delta-8, which has psychoactive properties similar to delta-9 THC in marijauana, and sold as intoxicating products.

It’s a loophole in federal hemp policy that has yet to be addressed by the federal government, but 14 states have outlawed delta-8 and other hemp-derived THC products.

Delta-8 has emerged at a time when the hemp industry is trying to distance itself from marijuana, hemp’s more controversial cousin.

The legality of these products is not the only concern. According to summit panelist Kay Doyle from Greenwich Biosciences, “experts around the country (are) concerned the chemicals being used in the synthesis of CBD to delta-8 are creating byproducts that may not be safe for humans to ingest.”

The Pennsylvania Hemp Summit will be followed up by a trade show and reception at the Lancaster Convention Center on April 26-27, 2022.

Lancaster Farming was the media partner for the Pennsylvania Hemp Summit.

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