As hemp gains attraction as an alternative crop in Florida, many growers are contemplating whether they will want to produce the crop once legalities allow them to do so. During the 2019 Florida Ag Expo, growers will have the opportunity to attend a hemp discussion panel. Hemp experts will answer growers’ questions about the logistics and legalities of the new crop. Among the panelists is Doris Hamilton, the hemp program manager for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
“We started growing hemp in 2014 with 33 acres,” says Hamilton. “The first year or two, the only impact was enthusiasm and the hope it was bringing back to families who have heritage in growing hemp. They remember their grandfather or great-grandfather growing hemp here in the state of Kentucky for the war efforts. Since then, we have published numbers from 2017 and 2018 giving specific economic impact, and those are ultimately the impacts that everyone was hoping for,” Hamilton says.
In 2017, $7.5 million was paid to Kentucky farmers for their hemp crop by Kentucky processors. In 2018, that amount grew to $17.5 million. Hamilton has high hopes for Kentucky’s hemp industry this year as acreage has increased by 20,000 acres since last year.
In 2018, the state had gross product sales of $57.75 million from Kentucky grown and processed hemp products. Hamilton firmly believes that this year the state will easily exceed $100 million in product sales from licensed processors.
Since hemp is an industry still in its infancy, it faces several agronomic challenges. Initially, it was thought that diseases didn’t exist in hemp and that insects didn’t bother the plant. However, these assumptions have proven to be false. For hemp to be a successful crop, chemical aids are crucial. “Developing cultural and agronomic practices will be equally as important,” Hamilton says. “We’ve come a long way in these last few years, but there are still certainly some challenges.”
Hamilton believes that if the growing demand for hemp is as big as some people predict, there should be a place for the crop in every state’s agricultural industry. As the hype about hemp grows in Florida, many believe that the hemp industry may be the light at the end of the tunnel for growers facing setbacks due to devastating hurricanes, citrus greening, and hefty competition from Mexico.
As growers begin producing this new crop, Hamilton’s key advice is to “be careful.” Since hemp is still a new industry, companies that are buying or writing contracts to buy hemp are all start-ups, so it’s a precarious position. “A couple of key points to understand about the industry is that there are a lot of planting materials available being labeled as hemp that really aren’t hemp,” warns Hamilton. “So, understanding your genetics and the THC potential in those genetics is critical because there are a lot of mislabeled products on the market.”
According to Hamilton, finding a buyer is paramount to what a grower is going to plant. “Deciding whether to plant or not to plant, that decision should be based on having a buyer. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose,” she advises.
For growers interested in attending the hemp panel, it will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 21 during the 2019 Florida Ag Expo at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma. To preregister, click here or call 352-671-1909. All preregistered growers will be entered for a chance to win a John Deere gun safe donated by Everglades Equipment Group.
Exhibit space is still available. If you would like to reserve a booth at the Florida Ag Expo, please complete a registration form.
Information about the seminar sessions is now online. Click here to view the seminar schedule.
To learn more about Florida Ag Expo, visit FloridaAgExpo.net.