The need for private funding for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Industrial Hemp Pilot Project has formed successful partnerships that benefit research and the agriculture industry.
“The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) provided funding for equipment and has been a supportive partner by inspecting incoming plant material but the hemp program needed funds from industry in order to operate,” Zachary Brym, UF/IFAS assistant professor and hemp pilot project coordinator said.
“The state encouraged UF/IFAS to start the hemp project through the industry-motivated 2017 hemp pilot project law,” Brym said. “But in order to respond, we have to obtain these funds through industry sponsorship.”
Green Roads, a south Florida seller of hemp products, provided $1.3 million to get the project on its feet. Since then, UF/IFAS has obtained additional support from industry sponsors through the Florida Industrial Hemp Endowment Fund. The endowment fund has allowed UF/IFAS to expand the scope of research from the original objectives to expand program objectives.
The project has expanded from six UF/IFAS faculty in three departments to 20 faculty in nine departments. The number of permitted sites for research expanded from four to 14.
“UF/IFAS’ critical mission is to support the many food, agriculture and natural resource industries we work with,” Brym said. “Our research is available to this diversity of industries to support their development, viability, sustainability, environmental consciousness and social responsibility and that is what we are working on within the hemp pilot program as well.”
While partnership with industry is not a new concept to UF/IFAS, it was especially important for the hemp research project.
“It is critical that industry and UF/IFAS have meaningful relationships,” Brym said. “One of the ways we can better define and support those relationships and research objectives is to obtain support directly from industry. There are multiple growers’ associations and industry groups that support UF/IFAS research that is guided by the objectives and priorities of those industry groups that represent individual growers.”
Industry sponsorship not only funds research but also supports UF/IFAS Extension efforts and public outreach to communicate the science. Some sponsorship contributions to the hemp pilot program have made workshops and outreach events possible.
“It is critical to the intent of our program to have multiple sponsors and be supported by the industry at large so that the outcomes of our program are able to support the whole of the industry,” he said. “We are thankful for all of our sponsors. The variety of supporters demonstrates to the public that we are supported by a large portfolio of the industry, representing the hemp industry as a whole instead of individual interests.”
All information discovered out of the UF/IFAS hemp pilot project is non-proprietary will be made available to the public. This is not a pay-to-play scenario, he said.
“We as a community can gather resources collaboratively to establish a strong program and then support that community effectively with sound research,” Brym said.
“Good science takes time and money,” Brym said. “We are grateful to our supporters for getting the project going, but this funding only goes so far. We have started this work but there is still a lot more to be done.”