Mike Bays mug

Mike Bays is chairman of the newly formed hemp subcommittee of the Agricultural Alliance of Citrus County.

Dozens of agricultural and community leaders gathered Monday morning at the extension office to discuss whether the growing of industrial hemp would be a good fit for Citrus County.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

That’s why the Agricultural Alliance of Citrus County (AACC) at its meeting formed a subcommittee to see whether hemp production would be a viable option for growers.

“This can be our backyard gold mine but we have to do it right,” said Haydon Fouke, an alliance member and local cannabis (medical marijuana and hemp) advocate.

Mike Bays, with State Farm, will chair the committee. Co-chairs are landowner Dixie Hollins and dairy farmer Dale McClellan.

AACC Chairman Larry Rooks said it’s probably too late in the game for veteran farmers in Citrus County to start another cash crop. But he’s hoping the production of hemp, if it’s found to be viable here, may entice younger farmers to stay in the area.

“I want to make sure it’s a good clean agricultural commodity,” said Rooks, adding that educating the public about hemp will be part of the committee’s mission.

Even though hemp is derived from the marijuana plant, it contains less than 3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” effect.”

Bays stressed that the alliance is talking about hemp, not medical marijuana, which has its own complicated set of governance rules.

Agricultural hemp is used in the production of hundreds of products, including clothing, rope, building materials and CBD oil.

Bays said the hemp committee must come up with a business plan and recruit other members. Several people at the meeting Monday expressed a desire to join.

“We have to do it right and present it correctly,” Bays said. 

McClellan said this has nothing to do with recreational marijuana, which he is against. His initial reservations about hemp changed after researching its uses. 

Adele Hembree, legislative aide to Rep. Ralph Massullo, told members the Florida Department of Agriculture — which governs how people can get a license to grow industrial hemp — should have its final set of rules governing hemp production out soon.

Those rules can help set the groundwork for local growers.

Massullo, reached after the meeting, praised the AACC for forming the subcommittee and believes it may be a moneymaker for Citrus County in the way of jobs.

“I think hemp is going to be an amazing economic driver for our state,” Massullo said. “I’d like to see our county in the forefront of having a legitimate industrial hemp industry.”

 

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com.

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