Pubdate: Thu, 03 Mar 2016
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald (Hilo, HI)
Copyright: 2016 Hawaii Tribune Herald
Author: Ivy Ashe


Feasibility Study Suggests Crop Will 'Grow Like Gangbusters'

Bills that would allow the state Department of Agriculture to create 
pilot research programs for industrial hemp are moving through both 
chambers of the state Legislature.

"I'm very happy that the bill is alive at this point," state Sen. 
Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, said of SB 2659, the Senate measure he co-introduced.

SB 2659 and its House counterpart, HB 2555, are not companion bills, 
but have the same aim of establishing the DOA research program.

Since the 2014 federal Farm Bill was signed into law, industrial hemp 
has been permitted as a cultivar as long as it is being grown for 
research purposes, which include growing, cultivation and marketing, 
under the authority of state departments of agriculture or a university.

Similar programs exist in Colorado, Kentucky and Virginia. Minnesota 
began a pilot program this week.

Rep. Clift Tsuji, D-Hilo, chairman of the House Committee on 
Agriculture and one of 32 representatives to introduce the House 
measure, stressed the explicit limitations laid out by the bill.

"It regulates for research purposes," he said. "This has come a long 
way, but it has a long way to go."

HB 2555 passed two House committees, which Tsuji said is the furthest 
any similar bills have advanced in that chamber.

The Senate bill cleared three committees.

"Some people are very conservative about hemp because they fear it's 
something to do with marijuana, and it's not," Ruderman said. 
"There's no potential for anyone to get high from industrial hemp." 
Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, Cannabis

sativa. Industrial hemp plants are specifically bred for their fiber 
and seed producing qualities. Their tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, 
levels are less than 0.3 percent, according to a 2015 report produced 
by the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and 
Human Resources. THC is the chemical that causes psychological 
effects in humans.

"There're fiber hemps that grow like gangbusters," said retired 
UH-Manoa biology professor Harry Ako. "It's stunning, is what it is."

Ako served as project lead for the 2015 report, which was the result 
of a two-year feasibility study at a Waimanalo, Oahu, site 
investigating how hemp would grow in Hawaii's climate. It took 11 
months to obtain permits from the federal Drug Enforcement 
Administration for seeds. The project wrapped in December last year.

Ako said he wasn't paid to do the work, and instead did it for fun.

"I really get a kick out of helping people," he said. "There's a lot 
of folks that are going to be able to make a living, a decent living."

The team found that subtropical hemp varieties thrive here. Ako 
estimated that between 31 and 37 dry weight tons could be grown on an 
acre in a year, and said yields that large could be used to address 
one of Hawaii agriculture's main challenges: the cost of inputs such 
as animal feed and fertilizer.

"That's a whole lot of leaves, and you can feed it to cattle," he said.

Industrial hemp grown primarily for its seeds could serve as a food 
source for poultry.

"When you look at a bag of birdseed, for a parakeet ... it's almost 
all hemp seeds," Ruderman said.

The crop also can be used for biofuel and to create a construction 
product called "hempcrete," although Ruderman was "more excited about 
the feed, food and fiber aspect of it."

Tsuji said he viewed industrial hemp as another alternative means for 
sustaining agriculture in Hawaii, particularly in the wake of Maui's 
HC&S sugar plantation closing down.

In testimony presented at the Senate committees on Judiciary and Ways 
and Means, DOA chairman Scott Enright wrote that the department 
"looks forward to establishing industrial hemp as a potential 
candidate crop and add it to Hawaii's diversified agricultural industry."

"It bears looking into," Tsuji said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom