Is Hemp the Crop of the Future for Florida Agriculture?
Florida Public Utilities attended the inaugural Florida Industrial Hemp Conference and Exhibition earlier this week, sharing a trade show booth with the Florida Hemp Growers Alliance. The three-day event sold out with nearly 350 attendees and 50 exhibitors in the Rosen Centre in Orlando.
Speakers/presenters included Holly Bell, the Director of Cannabis for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Geoff Whaling, Chairman of the National Hemp Association, several attorneys from local firms, processing equipment company representatives and Professors and Directors representing the horticultural, botanical and agronomy departments of UF/IFAS, University of Florida.
Topics of breakout sessions included Federal and state policy overviews, tax issues, global cannabis investments, market forecasts, end-user market development, banking, crop insurance and supply chain financing as well as cultivating, harvesting and the extraction processes of industrial hemp.
The event was developed and presented by Eugene Jones, CEO of Can-Ed with the conference event committee. It was very timely as farmers, growers and producers across the nation, including Florida, will soon be able to grow hemp under the auspices of the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, as announced by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, just one week ago on October 29th.
A Program for the Commercial Production of Industrial Hemp
Originally presented in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which reclassified hemp and allowed for its growth as an industrial product, it directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue regulations and guidance to implement a program for the commercial production of industrial hemp in the United States. The new program allows U.S. farmers to grow hemp according to requirements for licensing, records maintenance, standardization of testing for THC levels, background checks on key business participants, and the disposal of plants that do not meet the requirements, all currently being established for Florida, by various divisions and departments of FDACS.
There has recently been an increase in the market for CBD (cannabidiol) oil, a derivative of hemp, used for relieving pain, anxiety and the adverse effects of certain medial conditions. The hemp grown under this program will not contain THC (the chemical in Cannabis that gets users high) levels that Cannabis does (.3% or less) and can be grown for fiber, resin and seed, with over 25,000 uses.
Retail sales are predicted to exceed $20 billion in the United States by 2024.
Why was FPU in attendance you may ask?
Storage after harvesting, during transportation from the field to the processing facility and the actual process that the plants are subjected to in order to extract the oil, require strict temperature and humidity controlled environments- a challenge that can be economically managed with natural/propane gas drying equipment. And, it may make financial sense from a risk mitigation perspective to grow the plants in a greenhouse environment, utilizing climate controlled gas-powered air conditioning and irrigation equipment, as opposed to outdoors, under open canvas structures, in potting containers.
“Particularly as a growth manager, I think this is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a brand new product and market,” said Lyn Cacella, FPU’s Growth & Retention Planning & Development Manager. “With my background and love for Florida agriculture, I’m excited to be working with my business development colleagues at FPU to support our Florida growers and producers by helping the industrial hemp manufacturers and processors figure out BMP’s when it comes to the many different types of equipment and energy sources available and helping them determine which will be most effective and economical for their particular needs.”