January 27, 2022

Summerhill man shares insights on cultivating hemp

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Peter Allis, of Summerhill, stands in his field of hemp plants. Unlike most hemp farmers, Allis grows his hemp for fiber rather than CBD extracts.

SUMMERHILL — Hemp has been a part of Peter Allis’ family for generations, the 62-year-old Summerhill resident said.

“My parents were the only ones who didn’t grow hemp,” said Allis, 62, of Summerhill.

Until the last few years, it had been illegal for 80 years to grow and process hemp in the state.

Since its legalization in the state in 2016 and Allis’s application for a permit in 2019, Allis is growing 12 acres of hemp for fiber, not for CBD oil or other medicinal uses, to show the plant’s versatility.

This, he says, is important as the plant tends to only be thought of in light of CBD oil and its link to marijuana.

“People don’t realize it’s not all the same,” he said.

Hemp has a long history in America, dating back to its use in making rope during the Colonial era, said Lawrence Smart, a professor of horticulture at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While all types of hemp were made illegal in 1937, the U.S. Navy did use hemp during World War II to make rope, Smart said.

The plant itself can be produced for fiber, grain or CBD extracts. The fiber can be made into jeans, shirts and field coats, Smart said.

He’s also learned of car companies like BMW using hemp as a material in dashboards.

While the material is stronger than cotton and more biodegradable than materials made from fossil fuels, Smart said that it is not as cost-effective for producers to make items out of hemp as there isn’t much interest in it at the moment.

“It remains to be seen if there will be a growing demand for hemp-based fabrics,” he said.

There also isn’t as much interest in the state for growing hemp for fiber compared to for CBD extracts. Smart said that less than 5% of all hemp farmers in the state are growing hemp for fiber.

Even with an oversaturation of hemp farmers growing the plant for CBD extracts, the market is still not that large for farmers looking to sell fiber hemp products, said Trever Sherman, the owner of Ithaca Organics in Freeville.

“There’s a potential there, but not a huge opportunity for profit,” he said. “You’ve got to find your niche.”

Sherman, who grows hemp for products like CBD oil, shared Smart’s view in the plant’s multiple uses beyond extractions for CBD oil.

“I don’t feel like a lot of people know how much other things you can do with it,” Sherman said.

Allis said he has been growing his fiber hemp for horse bedding and potentially looking to expand and plant another 10 acres, but that will depend on the interest he gets.

More so, he hopes to share the information of the good the plant can do to the soil. Before he planted hemp, he couldn’t find worms to bait his fish hooks. But after planting, they are back.

“I was brought up that a true farmer grows soil and soil grows a crop,” he said.

Allis also said that over the past 50 years of learning about hemp, taking care of the earth is a necessity.

“I think hemp can have a very big part of that,” he said.