Hemp growing cover art

Leaves of industrial hemp plants in a greenhouse. Photo taken 05-21-19.

Jerry Fankhauser made it clear to Agricultural Alliance of Citrus County (AACC) members Monday morning that getting involved with industrial hemp farming is a crapshoot.

“There’s the potential for a lot of people to make money — maybe a lot of money,” Fankhauser said. “But there’s also the potential to lose money. It’s a cautionary tale.”

Fankhauser, assistant director for the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Florida, was the alliance’s guest speaker and laid out the pitfalls and the potential boons from industrial hemp farming.

Much care, he said, must go into cultivating hemp that contains less than 0.3 percent per dry weight. THC is the psychoactive chemical that, at higher levels, defines marijuana.

“You have to grow hemp and not marijuana,” Fankhauser said.

If state inspectors visit a local farmer’s hemp crop and discover it’s over the THC limit, they will ask that farmer to burn the whole crop and all that seed money to get it established will go up in smoke.

Citrus County and Florida farmers already have one strike against them: the high humidity and extreme heat is not as conducive to growing hemp as other areas of the nation.

And then there’s the hemp farmer’s worst enemy: pollen drift.

Fankhauser said farmers must make sure to rid the crop of male flowers to avoid cross pollination that can significantly reduce the CBD potential. And the CBD oil right now is the most lucrative part of hemp farming, he said.

The Agricultural Alliance started up an industrial hemp subcommittee a few months ago with the focus of finding out whether it’s a good fit for Citrus County. 

The state’s cannabis director, Holly Bell, visited the Alliance in November. Bell told farmers that growing hemp locally will work but before they rush into it, they must be educated and await more state guidelines. It’s still very much “trial and error in the Wild West,” Bell said.

Fankhauser said he agrees.

“You’re flying blind right now,” he said.

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

(1) comment

g8rbob

We have these ridiculous rules made up in the 1930s that hamper our ability to move forward with hemp. I understand it is very difficult to make the plant maintain less than 0.3% THC. It’s a crapshoot dependant on weather and time of harvest. I feel sorry for those pioneers who start with this and have to endure the critical oversight of authorities who seem to be willing to blindly punish people dashed on antiquated laws.

Did you know the feds just added a new law making it a felony for a legal medical marijuana patient to buy a new gun? Did you know a medical marijuana patient is not allowed to get an organ transplant? Did you know that a medical marijuana patient risks being fired from his job because of insurance pressures mandated by drug free workplace laws?

I wish hemp growers well. It’s a crazy mess of unnecessary laws they are going to have to deal with, along with government Prohibition are regulations which most likely will kill the effort.

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