Industrial hemp is seen as a potential new crop for North Carolina, but there are challenges to overcome.
In his annual State of North Carolina Agriculture Address where he announced the creation of the new crops initiative in the state, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said industrial hemp still faces regulatory pressure from the federal government.
The 2014 farm bill included a provision allowing for universities and state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp for research purposes. The North Carolina industrial hemp pilot program was approved by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed by the governor in 2015 creating the Industrial Hemp Commission to develop rules and the licensing structure to stay within federal laws.
Troxler, in his address at the Ag Development Forum during the Southern Farm Show in Raleigh, said the farm bill stated that the Drug Enforcement Administration could not use any resources in the intervention of the growing and processing of industrial hemp, but this hasn’t been the case.
“That’s the furthest thing from the truth. DEA still considers industrial hemp marijuana, a class-one narcotic, and they regulated it that way. It’s almost impossible to operate if this continues going forward so we asked for all of this to be clarified. When we get that done, then there is an opportunity for expansion,” Troxler said.
For instance, Troxler noted that there is a great deal of interest in high-value products from industrial hemp, such as CBD oil, but the sale of these products is “pretty much illegal.”
“We can grow hemp legally. We can grow the flowers that go into making CBD oil,” he said. But finding the end market is a challenge.
Troxler put a resolution before the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture asking that the new farm bill address the regulatory actions the federal government can take regarding industrial hemp.
In his comments, Troxler also announced the creation of the new crops initiative that will be a partnership between the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University.
“We want to be looking at what are the crops that could be out there that we should be working toward and try to make them successful. It may not be a silver bullet, but it could be another clary sage,” Troxler said.
Clary sage has been a longtime specialty crop in North Carolina. In addition to the potential for industrial hemp, Troxler sees great promise for stevia as a North Carolina specialty crop.
“There are all kinds of things out there that could happen, but it’s going to take a lot of cooperation and partnerships,” Troxler said. “The one thing we have in North Carolina is strong commodity groups and strong farm groups and that’s what makes us successful. For us to be successful in the future, we got to have a plan. And that’s what we’re trying to do: lay out those plans for the future through the new crops imitative.”