A farmer participating in South Carolina’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program has some advice for those applying to grow the crop in the program’s second year.
Lowcountry attorney Kevin Dean is growing hemp on 19 acres in Williamsburg County and one acrein Charleston County where he’s growing his research plants. Dean was among the 20 South Carolina farmers approved to grow hemp in the state Department of Agriculture’s inaugural pilot program last year.
“I think hemp is a great opportunity for farmers,” he said. “Especially tobacco farmers that have had cutbacks. We know what happened with the tobacco industry with obviously, for health reasons, it’s not being used and sold as much.”
The Department of Agriculture is expanding the program in its second year to include 20 additional farmers applying to grow a maximum 20 acres each. The department is currently evaluating 162 applications for the program.
Although the farmers will not be notified until September if they’ve been approved, Dean recommends applicants start doing their research now.
“Get started earlier,” he suggested. “And talk to as many farms and go visit them. I wish I had visited more farms in Kentucky and Tennessee and North Carolina than I did. Because you go to each one and you get different ideas and you can put those together and form your own plan.”
Dean said he and the other first-year farmers were not notified of their approval until December 2017. Learning from that, the Department of Agriculture is now informing the second-year farmers of their approval three months earlier to allow more preparation time.
“With the permits issued in September, they’re going to have much more time to get ready for a May and June ’19 planting,” he said. “But still, they shouldn’t be wasting time. They need to hit the ground running, decide what method they want to use for planting.”
Dean said farmers also have to find a place to buy seeds or clone plants. One farmer approved for a first-year permit was delayed when the shipment of seeds he ordered from Europe were stopped by the U.S. Postal Service.
“Hemp is a Schedule 1 narcotic that’s illegal under our federal laws,” he said. “Tey were using the USPS and so the feds confiscated the seed.”
Dean said the Department of Agriculture got involved to get the USPS to release the delivery. The delay cost the farmer two to three weeks of planting. He described seed and plant acquisition as “a little bit of a nightmare” that he hopes the Department of Agriculture can help the next batch of permit farmers with.
In addition to figuring out where to get the seeds or plants, Dean said farmers need to know what to do with their crop once it is harvested.
“What do you do with your product after you grow it? You need to be thinking about that the moment you get your permit. And that is processing and drying. Those are big issues and it’s something that we’ve had to struggle with — all of our 20 permittees have had to struggle with,” he said.
But Dean said the farmers are working together to share best practices and advice. And the Department of Agriculture is offering advice and resources, too.
“We’re all willing to help the next group once they’re selected,” he said.