What to know about growing hemp in Ohio

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(Posted March 19, 2020)

By Christine Bryant, Staff Writer

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) Hemp Program is now accepting license applications from potential cultivators and processors for the 2020 growing season.

For farmers who want to test the waters and enter the hemp industry, experts say it’s important for potential growers to consider all rules and regulations, as well as any risks involved, before moving forward.

Hemp is a cannabis plant, grown for its many industrial uses. It does not produce the same intoxicating effects as the cannabis plant, or marijuana. Instead, hemp produces a fiber often used in textiles. A hemp seed can be eaten, as well, and Cannabidiol, or CBD, can be extracted from a plant and used in oils or other dietary supplements.

Ohio’s hemp program is one of three that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved. Under these recently approved hemp rules, the Ohio Department of Agriculture Hemp Program began accepting license applications from potential growers on March 3.

To help potential growers navigate these new rules and regulations, the Madison Messenger reached out to Craig Schluttenhofer, a research assistant professor of natural products in the Agriculture Research Development Program at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Schluttenhofer, an expert in the chemistry and biology of cannabis grown for agricultural and medical use, says there are several key rules to know, as well as some general information that will assist anyone thinking about entering the hemp agricultural industry.

Rules to know

When it comes to hemp, Schluttenhofer says the most important regulation is complying with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels.

“As defined by state and federal law, THC levels cannot exceed 0.3 percent,” he said. “Any material exceeding 0.3 percent THC remains classified as marijuana.”

Prior to planting, growers must also obtain a hemp cultivation license from the ODA.

“Any processing of a hemp crop requires a hemp processing license,” Schluttenhofer said.

Prospective hemp growers in Ohio also must consider the planting location.

“Fields must be located at least 100 feet from residential structures and 500 feet from schools, parks and related areas,” he said.

Outdoor fields are required to be at least one-quarter of an acre and have at least 1,000 plants, he said.

“Indoor structures must be at least 1,000 square feet and contain at least 1,000 hemp plants,” Schluttenhofer said. “Once the crop is planted and nearing harvest, growers must submit a harvest report to the ODA 15 days prior to harvesting.”

This allows the ODA to collect samples for mandatory testing of the THC levels to validate compliance with established limits, he said.

“Growers are not allowed to sell their hemp crop until they receive a compliant test from the ODA,” Schluttenhofer said.

It is important to note, he says, that due to regulations, hemp crops cannot be sold directly to consumers, such as at farmers markets. They must instead be sold to a processor who is licensed under Ohio law.

A complete list of rules about cultivating or processing hemp can be found at http://codes.ohio.gov/oac/901%3A14.

The market for hemp

Any business owner knows there must be a market for a product in order to have the greatest chance of success at selling that product.

Schluttenhofer says, currently, the market for hemp in Ohio and nationally remains uncertain.

Passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, included legalization of the commercial production of hemp. This caused a large increase in hemp production in 2019, Schluttenhofer said.

Most production in the U.S. has been for cannabidiol (CBD) and, recently, cannabigerol (CBG), which are non-intoxicating cannabinoids metabolites known for their medical and health promoting properties, he said.

“CBD and CBG production have been popular due to the high returns for this material and demand for these products,” Schluttenhofer said. “However, the price has dropped considerably from last fall, and a number of metabolite processors are still left processing last year’s material.”

This has left the 2020 growing season questionable for all hemp producers, not just in Ohio.

“Currently, there are several processors who are working on being licensed to manufacture hemp metabolite products in Ohio, but how much material they will need is unknown,” he said.

Untapped products

Some untapped products could see a surge with this new legislation, however.

“In addition to metabolites, hemp produces grain and fiber,” Schluttenhofer said. “The grain is a healthy food, and fiber has numerous industrial applications.”

These markets have largely remained untapped, Schluttenhofer says, but are expected to develop over time.

“The main limitation to these crops is the lack of processing infrastructure and the scale of production needed by manufacturers to sustain supply for commercial sectors,” he said.

More information

A number of resources are available for farmers who want to learn about hemp.

“The ODA can supply information about the hemp program and regulations,” he said. “A number of universities in Ohio are working on researching hemp and are a valuable source of information.”

Central State University (CSU), where Schluttenhofer teaches, has released two Extension bulletins regarding hemp crop types and how to go about getting started growing hemp. These bulletins are in the process of being posted to the CSU Extension website and can be requested by contacting the CSU Extension office.

Resources also are available online from land-grant universities outside of Ohio, including the University of Kentucky, Purdue University and Colorado State University.

“Hemp processors can also be a good source of information, particularly in regards to how they need a crop produced,” Schluttenhofer said. “Local, state and national hemp trade shows also supply needed information.”

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