Less than a year into the program, the number of farmers growing hemp in South Carolina could double.
That's because the South Carolina Department of Agriculture is making more permits available for farmers looking to participate in the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.
The SCDA will select up to 40 farmers to receive permits to grow industrial hemp. That's twice the amount of the 20 farmers chosen in the inaugural year of the program.
Not only is the number of farmers doubling for 2019, but so is the amount of crops the selected farmers will be permitted to grow. The 2018 pilot program allowed 20 farmers to grow up to 20 acres of industrial hemp, but according to SCDA, farmers who receive permits will each be allowed to grow up to 40 acres.
“Expanding the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program will give us a greater opportunity to assess where and how this crop grows best in South Carolina,” S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said in a news release. “Ultimately, industrial hemp is about crop diversity and new business for our rural farmers.”
Hemp is a cousin of marijuana, but it contains 0.3 percent or less of the psychoactive chemical that will get you high. Marijuana, a separate variety of Cannabis sativa, can contain up to 40 percent.
But since World War II, hemp has been banned in South Carolina.
"It’s mystifying to me why we banned it in the first place,” said former S.C. state Rep. Chip Limehouse, who was one of 20 farmers who received the state’s first permits to grow the crop in December 2017. “This could be as big as cotton, rice or indigo. It could rescue South Carolina agriculture.”
Hemp has myriad uses, from food to clothing to composites for car and airplane parts to oils for medicines and dietary supplements.
When the program was launched, Weathers said it was about "growth and expansion for our farmers and our economy.”
Doubling the size of the program so soon is an endorsement from the government. One of the farmers selected to participate in 2018 also approves of the program.
Janel Ralph was one of the first 20 farmers selected to participate in growing hemp crops. The founder of Palmetto Harmony in Conway is growing 4,000 plants in greenhouses to produce cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which can have therapeutic benefits.
The company is named after Ralph’s daughter Harmony, who takes CBD oil to control her seizures from intractable epilepsy. Ralph was the first to apply for a growers permit.
Ralph told The State that South Carolina needs to increase the scope of the hemp growing program to keep up with other states, including North Carolina.
"We don't want to get behind the curve of these other states that have no limitations," Ralph said Tuesday, referring to North Carolina, which has 300 growers and no limitations on acreage.
Thirty-one states have laws that provide for hemp production or that allow pilot programs under the auspices of the federal 2014 Farm Bill. The states include North Carolina and Tennessee.
Colorado and Kentucky lead the nation in hemp production, growing the crop on more than 10,000 acres each.
Industrial Hemp Pilot Program
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.
Applications for the 2019 program are available online and must be completed and postmarked by June 29.