New York State is leading the pack when it comes to bringing back industrial hemp — after becoming prohibited about 80 years ago, to be an agricultural option for farmers in the Southern Tier of the state.
In the first ever industrial Hemp Summit, hosted by Cornell University, NYS Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said, “Good things are happening in New York State and its great to be a part of it. I think we’re here today because New York recognizes the opportunity for industrial hemp as an emerging commodity for our agricultural producers and the community.”
“The Southern Tier is soaring!” agreed NYS Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “New niches, new opportunities, we’re not just going to grow this, we’re going to take it to its end use right here in the Southern Tier.”
Legal impediments have been an obstacle for anyone interested in producing hemp in New York State.
Marc Privitera, Principal Engineer/ owner PreProcess, took part in the Summit panel of speakers. Privitera spoke about being unable to obtain quality seed for his program because of legal obstacles. He also said there is a chance of crops being confiscated due to authorities having unreliable information.
Although categorized as cannabis, industrial hemp does not have the THC content of typical marijuana.
THC levels must be below 0.3 to qualify as “industrial.” Privitera reported crops have been confiscated and burned in other parts of the country when THC levels test above the 0.3 level.
Ira Fair, General Manager of 21st Century Hemp, attended the Summit and addressed some obstacles to the development of the industry.
“Cannabis companies, such as 21st Century, have a very difficult time finding banking and insurance services,” commented Fair, adding the federal government’s prohibition against hemp and “public ignorance as to the true nature of hemp” add to the obstacles confronting the industry.
21st Century Hemp was founded in the Summer of 2015 and converted to an LLC in December of 2016.
“Our focus is on creating a public awareness of hemp through community outreach and education, developing the infrastructure necessary for the industry to grow, and development of a new generation of processing equipment that is smaller, more portable, and more efficient than existing equipment,” explained Fair.
Benjamin Banks-Dobson, Old Mud Creek Farm, Hudson, NY, commented on problems resulting from not being able to use the same harvesting equipment he would normally use on other crops.
“How do we mechanically handle this?” Dobson asked.
Dobson, who is researching carbon effects of hemp residue on soil and the use of hemp as a cover crop, also had questions about weed control.
“I have lots of concerns,” he admitted, remarking that he was looking to Cornell to come up with guidance for successful production and harvesting of the crop.
Christine Smart, Interim Director School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University, said there are also concerns about varieties that will be sustainable in New York and will also be insect and disease resistant.
Another concern is that there are no legally labeled fungicides, herbicides or pesticides to use with the crop, which, closely related to hops, is also susceptible to diseases such as Downy Mildew. There is also no fertilizer approved for use.
More research is needed to establish criteria for the establishment of the crop and this research will now be intensive.
Historically, research programs were restricted to colleges, such as Cornell University and SUNY Morrisville. However, because of recent changes in attitudes toward the industrial hemp plant, agricultural development programs are pursuing industrial hemp as a commodity crop.
Because of new directions, six private entities have been added to the list and have been issued permits through the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program. These permits allow private entities to pursue processing, manufacturing and marketing industrial hemp.
Those receiving permits included 21st Century Hemp and RIT, Rochester, NY; Cavallaro Farms Goshen, NY; JD Farms, Eaton, NY; Plant Science Labs, Buffalo, NY; PreProcess, Ellisburg, NY and Old Mud Creek Farm, Hudson, NY.
$200,000 funding had already been awarded to JD Farms through Governor Cuomo’s 2016 Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) initiative. This grant was earmarked to help to establish an industrial biomass processing plant to be used for processing commodity crops such as hay and industrial hemp.
“Plant research provides tools and opportunities for our farms to address a whole host of challenges facing agriculture,” said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher. “This includes expanding the state’s industrial hemp program to capitalize on potential economic development for agriculture in this state. The ability to diversify and make new crops available to farmers will be beneficial to our members, and New York Farm Bureau looks forward to continuing to partner with the Governor and his administration on this initiative.”
Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, realizes the potential to boost New York’s Southern Tier agricultural profits from development of the new industry. “As the Southern Tier has the largest number of farms of any New York State region among the economic development regions identified by Governor Cuomo, it is critically important that we work together to seek out opportunities to increase income for our farmers so that they can remain profitably in business,” commented Boor. “Various members of our legislature and business sectors have identified products made from hemp, and particularly oils, fibers and medicinal products, as offering timely market opportunity for New York State. Cornell has contributed suggestions during development of new New York State regulatory considerations for hemp, and we were among the early entities to obtain a permit that would allow us to grow hemp for experimental purposes. We need to establish that the ‘market pull’ is in the right place at the right time for those who wish to grow hemp.”
“The hemp industry has the potential to change the agricultural landscape in New York State,” agreed Fair. “I see the hemp becoming a major factor in the creation of jobs throughout the supply chain — from farm to consumer.”
Hochul said Governor Cuomo stands firmly behind the industry and vowed to continue to promote the success of the budding industry by identifying and eliminating barriers and expanding research.
“This will be on fire!” Hochul remarked. “I guarantee that that someday your grand kids are going to look back and say, ‘when did all that start?’ We’ll say it happened right here in April 2017, when people realized that we could do so much more by removing the barriers that has kept this industry back!”
Other industrial hemp advocates speaking at the NYS Hemp Summit included Assemblyman Bill Magee; Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo; Senator Thomas O’Mara; SUNY Sullivan Interim President Jay Quaintance, and Dr. David Rogers, President SUNY Morrisville.