January 20, 2022

‘Now, hemp is my life’

Local grower pushes for state to finish legislation

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Peter Allis inspects a hemp stalk from his crop in Sempronius for its bast fiber quality Wednesday morning. Hemp has been a part of Allis’ family for generations, and his goal is to show people how versatile the plant is.

SUMMERHILL — When he was a young boy, Peter Allis listened to his grandfather’s stories about the usefulness of hemp, and he has wanted to grow fiber hemp ever since.

“Before it was made illegal, he always told me how great it was — bringing mediocre soil back to good health, absorbing the carbon out of the air, purifying the soil,” said the 63-year-old. Now, Allis is one of only a few hemp growers in New York state.

Before a 1937 federal law prohibited all kinds of hemp, including marijuana, hemp was used for a variety of things including rope and textiles.

“People don’t know much about fiber hemp,” Allis said. “All they know about is marijuana and CBD, because nobody is out there telling them anything about bast fiber. But it’s incredible, there are over 50,000 products that they can make out of it.”

Bast and hurds fiber from the hemp stalks can make paper, animal bedding, construction fiberboard, essential oils, jet fuel and other products.

Since hemp’s legalization in New York state in 2016 and Allis’ application for a permit in 2019, Allis has cultivated 27 acres of hemp for fiber. But he isn’t sure yet if he can plant again for next year’s harvest.

“I just found out that I’m losing the last nine months of my three-year permit,” Allis said.

In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new rule regulating the Domestic Hemp Production Program in the United States.

This program will provide requirements for maintaining records about the land where hemp is produced, testing the levels of total delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, disposing of non-compliant plants, licensing hemp producers and ensuring compliance under the new program.

“With the publication of this final rule, USDA brings to a close a full and transparent rule-making process that started with a hemp listening session in March 2019,” USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach said in January when the changes were first announced.

“The state is rewriting all new regulations, so as of January my permit is no longer legal,” Allis said.

He said he believes there are two other farmers in New York growing hemp for fibers, but that number isn’t available since New York does not distinguish between the types of hemp, which include one for fiber, one for CBD oil and one for grain.

“They’re completely different creatures,” Allis said. “I have found that the true benefit of hemp lies in the fiber crop, just due to the mass difference in the crops.”

Allis said bast fiber hemp has the potential to replace high-demand plastics, building materials and other products by creating a biodegradable alternative while building soil health.

“The old-timers always told me that the farmers grow the soil so the soil can grow the crop. It’s not what you spend, it’s what you make,” Allis said. “Now, hemp is my life.”

In the past year, Allis has more than doubled his crop acreage and now has a plot on a friend’s farm, David Perry of Glacier Ridge Farm in Sempronius.

“What struck a chord with me was that hemp could be used in place of heavy plastics,” Perry said. “I mean, really of all the things killing the planet, we have got to figure something else out.”

Perry said he hopes that legislators at the state and federal levels work things out and introduce the new legislation, to make hemp-growing permits available soon.

“I think it’s important to know that fiber hemp isn’t even in the ballpark of pot, and it shouldn’t really affect the legislation,” Perry said. Perry and Allis said they hope the different types of hemp each get their own legislation someday.

While he waits for his grower permit to expire, Allis will let his crops freeze this winter and dry out in the spring for harvesting before shipping them off to a processing plant in Pennsylvania. Until then, he’s contacting his state representatives to push for new legislation and permits.

“Bast fiber gets an A-plus for its environmental impact and it could create hundreds of thousands of jobs — small businesses just have to grow it,” Allis said. “I’ve been trying to educate people on this subject for the past 50 years.”