THE ISSUE: Could we be looking at a new cash crop for Citrus County?
OUR OPINION: It is smart to consider the industry.
Hemp: Have we roped in an idea for the expanded future of agriculture in Citrus County?
We’re talking hemp here, not medical marijuana.
Even though hemp — which originated in Central Asia — is derived from the marijuana plant, it contains less than 3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” effect.”
This isn’t some sneaky, trendy, new age attempt to grow massive fields of marijuana to endanger the community.
Agricultural hemp has been used around the world for thousands of years in the production of hundreds of products. Hemp can be used to make textiles, building material, livestock bedding, paper products, bioplastics and more. It is stronger and more durable than cotton, yet requires less space and less water to grow.
Hemp oil is sometimes used to relieve inflammation pain. Many people use hemp or CBD oil as a form of natural pain relief, especially if the pain is a result of inflammation.
But can we grow it here? Legally, yes, as of July 1.
The Agricultural Alliance of Citrus County has formed a hemp committee to come up with a business plan and recruit other members. It’s primary purpose is to determine whether hemp production would be a viable option for local growers.
Dale McClellan, dairy farmer and owner of M&B Dairy in Citrus County, told a recent meeting of the Ag Alliance that this has nothing to do with recreational marijuana, which he is against. His initial reservations about hemp changed, he said, after researching its uses.
McClellan is co-chair of the committee — led by Mike Bays of State Farm — with landowner Dixie Hollins.
The Rodale Institute, which for years has researched and promoted organic farming practices, reports that “as a cover crop, hemp enhances soil health by shading out weeds —reducing the need for synthetic herbicides — and adding diversity to crop rotations, improving soil health.
“So far, research has shown that industrial hemp grows very quickly and performs just as well — if not better — than other cover crops. Our experience has shown hemp to be a resilient plant, and the bees love it.” (Rodaleinstitute.org)
State Rep. Ralph Massullo said he would like to see our county in the forefront of having a legitimate industrial hemp industry. And although, as noted by AACC Chairman Larry Rooks, it’s probably too late in the game for veteran farmers in Citrus County to start another cash crop, the production of hemp may entice younger farmers to stay in the area.
Massullo said he believes hemp “is going to be an amazing economic driver for our state,” and would like to see Citrus County — his home — in the forefront of the industry in Florida.
No matter what, looking for ways to better the economic future of the county is prudent. If hemp is a viable option, it should be explored, and it may provide a brighter future for local farmers.
It was farsighted of the AACC to establish a committee to study the issue now and will be quite interesting to see what transpires.