March 24, 2019

Hemp industry blossoms

Boom follows the legalization of the plant across the country

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Randy Allen cares for juvenile hemp plants Wednesday at Ithaca Organics in Dryden. Hemp sales have seen exponential growth since 2015, according to Hemp Industries Association.

Two years ago, in October 2017, Trevor Sherman of Dryden began growing a small amount of hemp for a friend at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market to use for juicing.

Just over a year ago, he increased his crop to one acre after attending a seminar at Cornell University.

Growing the plant increased over last year and Sherman has plans to add even more.

Over the past three years, hemp went from being almost nothing in Cortland to a planned 80 acres — or more — expected this year.

Sherman, the owner of Ithaca Organics, will continue growing vegetables and continue his market. He’ll also continue going to farmers markets and selling at his food stand.

However, the farm will no longer have a community-supported agriculture program, in which members pay for their share of vegetables up front and receive their share of the vegetables over the course of the season. Sherman was considering dropping the CSA even as he started growing hemp. Sherman’s plan runs alongside a recent boom in the industry following the legalization of the plant across the nation.

In Broome County, a company plans to open a processing plant for hemp.

Hemp sales have seen exponential growth since 2015, according to Hemp Industries Association.

In 2015, hemp sales totaled around $500,000, increasing to $47.6 million in the first 11 months of 2018.

For now however, it’s too early to estimate the economic effect hemp will have on Central New York and the country, said Janice Degni, the field crop specialist with Cortland County Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County. “It’s a new crop and offers a new opportunity,” Degni said.

Grain, fiber and oil

Hemp, or cannabis sativa L., is in the same family as marijuana, but has less than 0.3 percent of THC, the chemical that causes the high.

Under the new Farm Bill, the Hemp Farming Act opens up the industry. Three types of industrial hemp exists:
• Grain, which is grown for the seeds to use in food products and hempseed oil.
• Fiber used for fabric and clothing.
• CBD, or cannabidiol, oil used to treat certain pain and inflammation.

The plant can be used for thousands of products. The seeds are used in industrial products, personal-care products and nutritious food products, according to the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The stalk fiber can be used in paper, building materials and both personal and industrial textiles. The CBD oil is used in several medical and therapeutic applications.

While the plant has been legalized, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority still to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

A few plants to 50 acres

Since beginning to grow the plant in 2017, Sherman has expanded his operations.

In February 2018, after speaking with an old friend and visiting a renovated facility in Spencer used for processing the plant, he added an additional four acres to the already established one that month.

“The plan this year is to grow 50 acres,” Sherman said Wednesday.

By June, he plans to have around 50,000 hemp plants.

He has partnered with the High End Group in Spencer, Tioga County, to process his plants.

“The first year, we hit some bumps,” Sherman said with the cost of equipment and the equipment breaking down — hemp can be hard on equipment.

To begin, Sherman began making CBD oil. “Eventually we’ll have half a dozen different oils,” Sherman said. Each oil will target different ailments.

Hemp is claimed to have positive health affects on the brain and heart; as well as reducing inflamation; relieving rheumatoid arthritis; and improving skin condition, according to a report from Medical News Today.

To make the different types of oil Sherman needs to extract different cannabidiols for the hemp plants.

Down the road, Sherman looks to open his market more. He hopes to offer infused beverages, infused food products, ointments and balms.

“It helps with being legal,” he said. It opens grant opportunities.

Sherman isn’t the only one in the Cortland area to begin growing hemp.

In 2017, Allan Gandelman, an owner of Main Street Farms, looked into growing the plant following a case of lyme disease.

The farm now grows 10 varieties of the CBD oil hemp.

Gandelman is expanding his hemp production — doubling the acreage. “We are adding another 30 acres of hemp for CBD,” he wrote in an email.

Along with growth from farmers, the industry has seen announcements in the expansion of hemp processing.

Southern Tier Hemp, a hemp processing company, announced in January that it would be turning a former printing plant in Johnson City into a hemp-processing plant to produce CBD oil and other hemp products.

The processing plant would employ 100 to 120 people, early projections indicate.

Developing a market

State Sen. James Seward (R-Milford) is a big supporter of industrial hemp in New York. “It will be a big plus for the economy,” Seward said. “You can utilize industrial hemp in such a wide variety of products.”

Even before the passage of the Farm Bill, the state has been working toward a hemp market.

In 2015, the state passed the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot, which allowed a number of educational institutions to grow and research the plant, Seward said.

Two years later, the cap on the number of sites was eliminated and the places that could grow and research the crop expanded to farms and businesses as well.

“It threw the door wide open,” Seward said.

In 2017, the plant was also established as an agricultural commodity, giving it legal standing, Seward said.

Since 2015, the state has also invested $10 million into research and capital grants to aid in the product development and establishing facilities to process it.

“This presents exciting prospects for the state,” Seward said.

Included in highlights from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 state budget New York would import thousands of pounds of industrial hemp seed to ensure farmers have access to a high-quality product and ease the administrative burden on farmers.

Further, the state would invest an additional $2 million in a seed certification and breeding program to begin producing unique New York seed.

For now, it’s too early to tell the economic effect that hemp will have on the state, Degni said.

“The products and markets have to develop together.”

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