GEORGIA, SOUTH CAROLINA (WTOC) - The 2019 South Carolina Industrial Hemp Pilot Program is doubling in size for a second year to see if it could be the state's new cash crop. 40 farmers will be selected for permits to grow up to 40-acres of hemp next year.
The South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Hugh Weathers, said by expanding the industrial hemp program, it'll provide a greater opportunity to assess where and how industrial hemp grows best in our state.
The hemp plant, with a durable fiber used for manufacturing, was banned in the early 70's. Lawmakers reconsidered when they realized the potential hemp has in the industrial industry and passed the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, giving states the choice to grow the plant.
South Carolina jumped on the train for their first pilot program this year, selecting 20 farmers across the state to grow up to 20 acres of hemp each. A flood of hopeful candidates even with the risk of failure.
"Prospective growers throughout the state are eager to join the program even without knowing exactly where it's going to grow best," said Sally McKay with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
The harvesting of hemp won't begin until June. Even without results locally yet, McKay says their phones have been ringing off the hook with folks already wanting to sign up for next year.
What farmers have caught onto that many of us don't realize each day are all the things we use Hemp for: fuel to fill up our cars, clothes, human and pet food, and thousands of other commodities and household items. But - not everybody is convinced.
The Department of Agriculture says the main pushback is the confusion of hemp with its cousin plant, marijuana. Yes, they are family, but hemp is not grown as a drug.
"In order for a plant to be classified legally as industrial hemp, it can have no more than .03 percent. That's almost nothing - of the THC agent, and that's the difference," said McKay.
All plants in this trial will be tested to make sure they do not exceed that level.
Applications for the 2019 pilot program must be completed and postmarked by Friday, June 29th.
To qualify for a permit, applicants must:
- Be a South Carolina resident;
- Pass a state and federal background check administered by the South Carolina law enforcement division;
- Have a signed contract with an industrial hemp manufacturer/processor; and
- Submit GPS coordinates for the land where industrial hemp will be grown.