Florida's largest hemp research operation takes root

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BARTOW, Fla. — What is set to be the largest hemp research operation in the state took root, Thursday afternoon.


Green Earth Cannaceuticals, in partner with Florida A&M University, started planting 30 acres of hemp at its Bartow farm. Growers estimate that will generate about 45,000 plants.


Scott Burgett, who runs Green Earth, said the goal is to find out what works and what doesn’t when growing Florida hemp.


“It’s a very hardy plant,” Burgett said. “It’s just going to require learning some tricks for the industry to make sure you’re not losing crops.”


Burgett hoped the research would help future commercial farmers know what to expect when they’re allowed to start planting.


A new state law passed last session allows the growth of hemp, which looks like weed but lacks the high. Hemp has hundreds of uses and lots of interest from farmers looking to replace greening citrus crops or timber decimated by Michael.


Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried believes hemp could become a $10-20 billion industry for the state.


“We got to get this right,” said Dr. Charles Weatherford, FAMU Interim Associate Vice President for Research. “Otherwise it could be just a mess.”


Weatherford is overseeing the research operations for FAMU. He said before commercial farming begins, it’s imperative growers understand what types of hemp grow best in the state, how to deal with pests — which can be a problem with the plant — and how hemp will tolerate Florida’s heat.


“We could end up doing the same thing that happened with citrus if we’re not careful,” he said. “We cannot jump ahead of ourselves.”


The University of Florida already has a smaller research operation in place. FAMU’s is expected to harvest in October. The school is also set to manage additional research operations set to start growing in spots across the state in the coming month.


Commercial growers will likely start planting in fall, once new state rules have been approved.

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