Pubdate: Thu, 31 Aug 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


Not one of the growers had any prior experience cultivating the plant,
which grows so quickly it's nicknamed "weed." So some problems were to
be expected. However, nobody anticipated one complication.

"We had some projects that really did everything right, but were
completely overrun by weeds," -- real weeds, said Russell Redding, the
state's Secretary of Agriculture. "You'd have fields that were
beautifully green, but overwhelmed by unwanted species."

Sometimes knowledge is hard-won, even in a state with a long history
of cultivation dating back to the colonial era and more than a dozen
school districts named "Hempfield."

"It's a new old crop, a native crop, but we have a complete void of
experience that we desperately need," said Redding, who is aiming to
visit all 14 hemp plots that the state has permitted. "That's what
this three-year project is about. We're working hard to build the

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding examines hemp plants with
William "Bill" Evans, chief of staff for PA Senator Judy Schwank, at
the Rodale Institute outside Kutztown, Berks County, on Wednesday,
July 19.

Each of the experiments was viewed as a success, however. For
starters, the crops grew faster than anyone expected, despite a delay
in planting caused by the DEA holding up the seeds, which had to be
imported from Canada.

"Everyone was blown away by how vigorous the plant is," said Ross
Duffield, farm manager at the Rodale Institute's experimental
farm near Kutztown. "It was the ugliest field of cannabis you ever
saw, full of seeds and inconsistent growth. But in two months, we had
14 feet. It was heavy."

Rodale, ironically, planted hemp for a weed-suppression trial.
Duffield said it did "a great job" smothering unwanted growth.

"We're hoping to build on that and grow a cash crop next year," he

Industrial hemp was banned along with marijuana in 1937 by the federal
government partly because the two varietals of cannabis were easily
confused with each other. Now hemp, like its skunky cousin, is resurgent.

At the same time marijuana is being pitched as a medicine of last
resort, industrial hemp is being hailed as a wonder crop of another
sort -- its fiber for fabric and construction materials, its seeds for
high-protein dietary supplements and a source of food-grade oil, and
the whole plant as a source for CBD compounds which may have several
valuable medical applications.

Commercial marijuana typically contains about 18 percent THC, the
psychoactive compound that delivers a mind-bending wallop. Some
varieties sold in Colorado contain up to 30 percent. Industrial hemp,
on the other hand, contains a minuscule amount.

"It's absolutely useless as a drug crop," said Erica McBride, of the
Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council. Under Pennsylvania regulations,
any hemp with a THC concentration greater than 0.3 percent must be

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still considers both
varieties of cannabis -- marijuana and hemp -- as Schedule 1
substances, that is, with a high potential for abuse and no current
medically accepted use. That hasn't stopped more than 30 states and
the District of Columbia from broadly legalizing marijuana in some
form. The Pennsylvania Department of Health expects medical marijuana
products to be available to patients in early 2018.

More than 30 states have legislation authorizing pilot research
programs for hemp, allowed under a research provision tucked into a
federal farm bill, according to Geoffrey W. Whaling, chairman of the
National Hemp Association.

Early this week, the hemp was as high as an elephant's eye on a
five-acre field owned by Lehigh University, near Bethlehem. As bees
buzzed around a hive tended by a former police officer, some scraggly
stalks of hemp towered at more than 15 feet, Whaling said.

On Saturday, a small tractor outfitted with a sickle bar will reap the
grassy harvest which was cultivated and monitored by the Pennsylvania
Hemp Industry Council (PAHIC).

"It'll be like mowing a lawn," said McBride, the project's manager.
"It'll take less than an hour." Hemp has a distinctly different look
from marijuana, she said. "You want marijuana to be short and bushier
to produce more flower, hemp is one major stalk that you want to have
only one main cola, the flower that produces the seed."

The PAHIC project has three aims. One is investigating the Anka
variety's ability to draw toxic substances and heavy metals out of the
soil. Another is examining hemp's anti-microbial properties. The last
is looking at possible applications of hemp fiber to be incorporated
into dot-matrix nanosheet technology. Who knew?

"Hemp has some of the same properties as copper," said Whaling, who
jokingly calls himself Mr. Hemp and an Emperor of the Hempire. "There
are people looking at developing electric batteries with it. We can do
astounding things with hemp."

After the hemp is cut, it will lay on the fields for two weeks for
"dew retting," a process that softens the fibers. The stalks later
will be bound into tepee-like shocks to dry for use by Lehigh
University researchers. "We had hoped to take some to make witches'
brooms for Halloween," McBride said. "But we were shot down by the
Department of Agriculture."

Next year, the state likely will allow growers to plant more than five
acres, said Redding, the state's agriculture secretary. More
importantly, there'll be a concerted effort to have hemp reclassified
so that it isn't considered a dangerous drug by the federal government.

"If we can do that, we can commercialize hemp and it won't have to
stay a research project," Redding said. "But it's going to literally
take an act of Congress."
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