Amid the U.S.-China trade war and hurricane disaster recovery, some Georgian farmers are anticipating economic growth through the hemp industry.
Georgia farmers will be allowed to apply for licenses to grow and process hemp – a strain of the cannabis plant, as soon as state officials finalize the rules and regulations. Farmers will not have to wait too long. The public comment period ends Monday.
“The overall response has been fairly excitement,” said Raynor Churchwell, agricultural program specialist for Georgia Farm Bureau. “Farmers are optimistic and always looking forward to new opportunities.”
Some farmers faced 25 percent tariffs on their exported products as a result of the ongoing trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. Others are still recovering from the after-effects of Hurricane Michael, which hit Georgia in late 2018.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Georgia Hemp Farming Act into law in May, which makes it legal for farmers to grow the crop. The market for cannabis-based products is projected to reach $1.3 billion by 2022, according to the National Hemp Association. Churchwell said hemp plants could benefit greenhouse and tobacco farmers as well, most of which are concentrated in Southern Georgia.
Under the proposed rules, hemp growers would pay $50 per acre for a license with a maximum of 100 acres allowed to grow the crop. A hemp processor permit would cost $25,000 upfront and $10,000 every year after.
Hemp, which is normally harvested in the summer, is a byproduct of cannabis that contains low amounts of THC. The plant is usually harvested three ways – as seeds, fiber or cannabidiol oil, according to Churchwell.
Growers would be subject to inspections to ensure that the plants do not exceed a THC concentration of 0.3 percent while dry. Any plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC will be destroyed.
The growers would also have to maintain and keep planting records, harvest and production records for at least three years.
Processors of the plant would be subject to inspections and record keeping. They will also be required to get a hemp transportation permit.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture announced the proposed rules on July 10. Written comments will be accepted up until 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Julie McPeake, spokesperson for the department, said she could not give the exact number of comments that they have received so far, but it is a common occurrence for an influx of comments to come in as the deadline nears.
Without the rules and regulations being enacted, both McPeake and Churchwell said they could not predict the economic impact of industrial hemp in Georgia, however; greenhouse plants rank seventh among the top agricultural commodities in the state.