Christel Stewart

Stewart

The interest in growing and processing hemp, which can be used to make CBD oil, has increased significantly in Alabama since the state’s industrial hemp program was launched early this year, with the number of applications from prospective growers more than tripling.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries accepted applications for the 2020 program from growers, processors/handlers and universities from Oct. 7 until Nov. 14.

“We received about 600 grower applications and about 200 processor applications,” said Christel Stewart, plant test administrator with the ADAI and head of the department’s plant protection division. Applications were also received from eight universities, she said.

In the 2019 program, 182 grower applications were received, with 157 growers actually licensed, meaning they qualified to participate in the program and paid the required fees, according to Stewart. Also, 65 processor applications were received, and 59 licenses were issued, she said. Five universities were licensed, she said.

“I knew (the number of applications) would be a lot higher” for the 2020 program, Stewart said. “This is pretty typical (based on) what other states have seen between the first and second years."

In addition to being used for the expanding CBD product market, hemp can be used to make fiber for rope and other products. A report by Chicago-based Brightfield Group, a market research firm studying the industry, predicts CBD product sales in the U.S. could reach $5 billion this year and $23.7 billion by 2023.

Applications are still being reviewed, said Stewart, who expects the approval process will be completed before the end of the year. She said no growers or processors will receive licenses until after a mandatory orientation meeting to be held the first week of February.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, individuals cannot receive a hemp production license from a state, tribe or the USDA if they have been convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance in the last 10 years.

Every applicant must have a criminal background check conducted as part of the application process, Stewart said.

The 2018 federal farm bill legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity while removing it from the list of controlled substances. The legislation defines hemp as all parts of the plant containing less than 0.3% THC, tetrahydrocannabinol. Still, the ADAI said the cultivation and production of industrial hemp in Alabama is illegal without a license obtained from that department.

The ADAI, Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station are partnering to provide hemp growers with production information and growing guidelines. Though Extension personnel can’t collect or transport samples, they will be able to offer research-based solutions to weed and insect control issues.

“I think there are still some unknowns (about the crop), especially with profitability,” said Morgan County Extension Coordinator Mike Reeves. “We’ll just have to see how it plays out."

If farmers are able to market and sell the crop, "they can learn how to grow it," he said.

marian.accardi@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.

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