A little more than an acre on Wayne Smith’s Eastern Star area farm is plowed and fertilized, but the highly regulated hemp seeds he requested from the state Department of Agriculture months ago still haven’t arrived.
“I put my order in and I’m waiting patiently for my seeds to arrive,” Smith said Monday. “It’s going to be late in the growing season compared to what I’d like, but I’m hoping for a good first season.”
Delayed while the state awaited import permits from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for the seeds, which have been illegal to grow without a permit since 1970’s Controlled Substances Act, some farmers in Tennessee were doubtful the approval would come in time to grow a useable crop of industrial hemp this year.
Corinne Gould, a spokesperson for the Agriculture Department, said the permits were granted on May 7, and the farmers who applied to take part in the experimental cultivation project were notified promptly.
Of the three in the area who were granted licenses, Smith and Randall Ledford of Unicoi County decided to move ahead. One, Pendleton Farms, operated near Tri-Cities Regional Airport by Darby Ratcliff, decided not to plant this year.
The state is currently placing orders based on the farmers’ requests and will distribute the seeds once their originating countries, Canada and Australia, approve their export and ship them to the states.
For his approximate one-acre field, Smith said he ordered a 27.5-pound bag of seeds from the Canda cultivar.
The variety of seeds offered to participating farmers this year were more conducive to hemp oil production rather than fiber, Smith said.
This year, one of the only specialized pieces of equipment he’ll likely buy is an oil press, which will be used to compress the seeds enough to force out the contained oil, which can be used in lubricants, paints, inks, fuel and plastics and be refined to use in soaps, shampoos, detergents and food products.
Otherwise, Smith said he hopes the seeds can be planted using an ordinary seed drill, though he’ll plant by hand if he must, and he’s considering a combine that he may be able to modify to cut the tall stalks at the 4-foot height needed.
Still in the process of learning how the rest of the plant can be used once the seeds are harvested for the oil, Smith said the remaining material won’t go to waste.
The stalks he’ll consider using for Hempcrete, an insulating product that can be used in construction, or may consider selling to a paper manufacturer, if the interest is there. If those options aren’t viable, he’ll cut the stalks and bale them to be later chipped into a mulch.
“We’ve gotten this far, so we’re going to put some seeds in the ground, and what comes of it, we’ll see,” Smith said.
The federal 2014 Farm Bill allowed industrial hemp to be grown for research purposes only, provided a state’s legislature approves the cultivation of the plant, which Tennessee’s did with Public Act No. 916 last year.
In exploring the possible applications of industrial hemp and the potential benefits of its cultivation, Tennessee and other states are hoping to introduce a new cash crop to areas hard hit by the economic downturn or the decline in demand for other agricultural products, like tobacco.
A variety of the Cannabis plant, hemp, containing far less of the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, has for decades been collectively stigmatized with its more potent cousin, but recent pushes by advocacy groups to legalize the plant have gained traction.
According to votehemp.com, an advocacy website, 20 states have defined industrial hemp as distinct from the THC-containing variant and have removed barriers to its cultivation.
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