Commissioner High Weathers: 2019 Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program

South Carolinians seem very interested that South Carolina farmers can now, with a permit from SCDA, grow industrial hemp. Ag Commissioner Hugh Weathers tells us more about industrial hemp and the 2019 Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program applications that just came out.

  • The South Carolina Industrial Hemp Pilot Program could double in size during its second year
  • Applications for the 2019 program are available on the SC Department of Agriculture (SCDA) website, https://agriculture.sc.gov
  • Completed applications for the 2019 program must be completed and postmarked by Friday, June 29
  • SCDA will select up to 40 farmers to receive permits to grow industrial hemp. Those farmers who receive permits will each be allowed to grow up to 40 acres of the crop.
  • The 2018 pilot program allowed 20 farmers to grow up to 20 acres of industrial hemp.
  • “Expanding the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program will give us a greater opportunity to assess where and how this crop grows best in South Carolina. Ultimately, industrial hemp is about crop diversity and new business for our rural farmers.”
  • To qualify for a permit, applicants must:
  • Be a South Carolina resident; Pass a state and federal background check administered by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division; have a signed contract with an industrial hemp manufacturer/processor; provide a Letter of Intent with a South Carolina college or university; and submit GPS coordinates for the land where industrial hemp will be grown.
  • About a year ago, Governor McMaster signed into law H. 3559, allowing South Carolina to begin growing industrial hemp.
  • The law purposefully created a gradual expansion of the program, and I’m hopeful that our understanding of hemp best practices will expand right along with the number of acres being planted.
  • Understanding is key when it comes to industrial hemp, because there’s quite a bit of misinformation about this plant.
  • The confusion stems from hemp being designated as a controlled substance, like its cousin marijuana, in the federal Controlled Substances Act, passed by Congress in 1970.
  • While industrial hemp and marijuana are the same plant family, hemp contains virtually no THC the psychoactive substance in marijuana.  Legally, hemp must contain no more than .03% of THC.
  • Industrial hemp has a long history in the United States, having first been planted probably as early as the 1600s. After a 1930 law similar to the Controlled Substances Act banned hemp for the first time in this country, the crop made a strong comeback during World War II, because it could be used for wartime supplies and materials.
  • The 1970 ban remained in place until 2014, when Congress included language in that year’s farm bill allowing states to reintroduce hemp through state-authorized programs.
  • Although it’s too early to know how our first 20 growers will fare with their crops, all of us involved in the process are optimistic that this old/new crop could bring new opportunity to our rural farmers and counties.