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.