Ag commissioner: There’s hope for hemp’s future

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The North Carolina commissioner of agriculture says the experiment to develop industrial hemp in the state had a successful first year.

Hemp production has been legalized in North Carolina, but only through the state’s industrial hemp pilot program administered by the Industrial Hemp Commission.

“The Industrial Hemp Commission did an incredible job this year,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler told a recent gathering of tobacco growers.

According to Troxler, in the first year of operation, the state had 104 growers who were registered to grow industrial hemp.

“We had about 1,900 acres of industrial hemp grown in North Carolina and 176,000 square feet of greenhouse space,” Troxler said. “That is significant for the first year.”

“Quite frankly, I have been skeptical of industrial hemp over time for a couple of reasons,” Troxler said. “No. 1, I didn’t see the market out there, so part of the research that the commission has been involved in is developing those markets.”

According to Troxler, 34 processors have been registered in North Carlina to create products and develop the market.

“There is some hope for industrial hemp,” Troxler said. “The caveat is it is still considered a Class 1 narcotic just like marijuana is and when you deal with DEA. They see no difference in marijuana and industrial hemp.”

Troxler said it was “quite a feat to get to the point that we could even get it grown” because of Drug Enforcement Administration rules.

“Other states have done it and I think they had to skirt some of the DEA rules to get it done and I will not be the one that they take and put handcuffs on and put into prison,” Troxler said. “So we have done it and we’ve done it right.”

Troxler said he believes there will be more success next year with industrial hemp.

“We found out some things this year,” Troxler said.

According to Troxler, the old wives’ tale that hemp is easy to grow and it takes very little inputs and growers don’t have to worry about insects is not quite the truth.

“Every field that I walked into this fall had a big old fall armyworm in the seed head, having a feast on it,” Troxler said. “But I guess that’s good news. The old adage is if you’ve got an ear of corn and a corn ear worm won’t eat it, you know, you probably don’t want to eat it either, so we know there’s got to be some good stuff in it for the fall armyworms to get in it.”

Troxler said he also found out this year that hemp may be “the best dove bait there is in the world.”

“I saw fields that had sunflower planted for dove bait and all the doves went to the hemp field, so we found that out too,” Troxler said. “So if you’re interested in dove-hunting, that’s probably the way top go.”

For more information on North Carolina’s industrial hemp pilot program, go to http://www.ncagr.gov/hemp/.