South Carolina agriculture officials received 162 applications from farmers interested in growing industrial hemp during the second year of a pilot study.
Applications for the second year of the Department of Agriculture’s experimental hemp program closed June 29. Last year, 20 South Carolina farmers were selected to participate in the inaugural and experimental hemp-growing program. They were allowed to cultivate up to 20 acres of industrial hemp.
State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said all 20 farmers re-applied for a second year. From the applications, another 20 farmers will be selected to participate. In the second year, farmers will be allowed to plant up to 40 acres of hemp.
“Expanding the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program will give us a greater opportunity to assess where and how this crop grows best in South Carolina,” Weathers said. “Ultimately, industrial hemp is about crop diversity, new business for our rural farmers and economic development in South Carolina.”
Weathers said the department will start immediately reviewing applications so that farmers can be notified in September.
“Quite a challenge that we have here, so we will begin that process at looking at all of those as objectively as we possibly can,” he said.
Last year, farmers were notified in December if they were accepted for the program. Weathers said they moved the deadline up more than two months to give accepted farmers time to prepare. Resources are also available to farmers who are attempting to grow the crop.
“We’re out there watching our farmers grow it this year and just trying to be all the resources that we can bring to them, knowing this is such a new enterprise for South Carolina agriculture,” he said.
Weathers said the Senate version of the farm bill currently being discussed in Washington includes relaxing federal regulations treating hemp as a controlled substance.
“We think that opens up more potential for hemp in South Carolina so we are watching that while we are learning if hemp is a feasible crop to be grown in South Carolina as a profit.”
The House version does not address hemp. A conference committee is in the process of reconciling the bills.