Industrial hemp growing in Florida for first time in decades: University of Florida pilot project plants seeds for new Florida crop

By Ruth Borger

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) industrial hemp pilot project has passed a critical milestone towards understanding the potential of growing hemp throughout Florida.

Hemp plants have been planted at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead Florida and at the UF/IFAS Agronomy Forage Research Unit in Hague, Florida — the first hemp plants to be legally grown in the state since the 1950s. Multiple UF/IFAS sites are actively participating in the pilot project. Researchers are looking to identify hemp varieties suitable for planting in Florida, develop industrial hemp management practices for growing hemp in the state’s diverse growing environments and also assess the risk of hemp being an invasive plant that could potential pose a risk to Florida’s landscapes.

“Industrial hemp is a diverse multi-use crop with applications in bioplastics, building material, food, textiles and forage,” said assistant professor of agronomy Zachary Brym, who is leading the University of Florida Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. “Early Americans grew hemp and used it to make clothing, paints, ink, paper, rope, wagon covers, the list just goes on.”

One aspect of UF/IFAS research aims to produce plants with a high level of Cannabidiol extract, or CBD, not only to meet growing market needs but also to find suitable cash crops for Florida farmers. Additional aspects include identifying plants that will have food and fiber uses.

Industrial hemp is a Cannabis sativa plant with less than 0.3 percent of THC, which is the psychoactive chemical that, at a higher level, defines marijuana. Currently, authorization for hemp production is limited to the University of Florida and Florida A & M University. The project requires approval at multiple levels including federal and state agencies, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the university boards of trustees.

The UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (MREC) in Apopka is propagating plants in a greenhouse environment. “Given its versatility, industrial hemp could be a crop of exceptional potential for Florida farmers,” said Roger Kjelgren, UF/IFAS MREC director. “We are excited to be at the forefront of the university’s research efforts and are excited for the opportunity to contribute to this project.”

A total of eleven researchers from seven departments and the College of Pharmacy are engaged in the pilot project. Research activities include three outdoor production locations in Homestead, Hague and Quincy. These locations will conduct a replicated trial of more than 40 varieties of hemp, including grain, fiber, and CBD types. The goal is to gather the most basic information necessary for the initial design and economic assessment of hemp growing systems for regions across the state of Florida. The UF Gainesville campus is involved in assessing the invasion risk that the plant has for Florida’s natural environment. Work to screen hemp for nematode and mildew susceptibility has begun at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma.

Expanding the scope of research to additional research objectives has been facilitated by private industry donations and internal IFAS support. Additional information may be found at the UF/IFAS industrial hemp website at https://programs.ifas.ufl.edu/hemp/.

Media contact: Ruth Borger, rborger@ufl.edu, 352-294-3329, 517-8037631 (cell)

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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