One of the 20 farmers who were selected for South Carolina’s pilot hemp program is a Mount Pleasant attorney who became interested in hemp at a client’s request.
“I was retained by a client to attend a couple legislative sessions and make some presentations before one of the house subcommittees when they were looking at the medical marijuana bill,” Kevin Dean said. “There were a lot of mothers with young children there that had epilepsy and other seizure disorders and other medical –PTSD. And it was pretty heart-shocking, some of the stories that I heard.”
Dean saw the opportunity to grow hemp for products he said could help those patients need.
“It piqued my interest immediately,” he said.
Dean said his grandparents were tobacco farmers in Georgia, but he himself lacked practical agricultural experience. But he’s gotten a lot of help from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and other hemp farmers participating in the pilot program.
“It certainly changes your routine,” he explained, noting he is still a full-time lawyer who spends his early mornings and weekends tending 19 acres in Williamsburg County and a test acre in Charleston County.
Dean said it is a learn-as-you-go process. This is the first year for the sanctioned hemp-growing program in South Carolina. The department is currently reviewing applications for the expansion of the program’s second year.
“For the most part, growers have been on their own to try to figure out what to do with the crop once it’s ready to be harvested,” he said.
“After dealing with multiple challenges this year with planting methods, plant varieties and type, funguses and diseases, too much rain causing wet beds, as well as two hurricanes, I am happy to report we have completed harvesting this week,” Dean said via email Friday. “We were affected by Hurricane Florence the most with approximately 30 percent crop loss due to blown over plants. We tried staking and it helped, but many were not salvageable with the added rain and being stressed by the elements.”
Dean hopes to make CBD oil with his crop and he’s searching for a place to have it processed. He planted more than 16,000 plants. “Right now CBD is the only thing that’s a commodity that we can get our investment back with only 20 acres,” he said. “We can’t take that 20 acres and go into the fiber market. We’ll lose money.”
Because of difficulty in obtaining seed or clones to plant, Dean was able to produce seeds available to sell for 2019. He hopes the seeds will grow plants strong enough to weather hurricanes.
“Clones have been for us the best way to start and I think my company is hopefully going to start a seed company here in South Carolina next year just to avoid that issue for farmers in the future because transporting it across state lines, using the mail to transport it, there could be some legal troubles,” he said.
Dean said hemp might be a good crop for former tobacco farmers who have suffered from the market’s collapse as demand goes down for the crop.
“They have the experience. They have the machinery,” he said. “They have the knowledge and the equipment and I’m hopeful that we can do that for the rural communities in Williamsburg and Florence and Marion counties and other places across our state.”
Dean said the pilot’s 20 hemp farmers are working together to share information because they want the market to succeed in South Carolina. Particularly since those 20 are not guaranteed a second year. “It truly is an opportunity and we don’t want to fail,” he said. “We don’t want to have a single farmer fail because it would look bad on our state and we’ve got really big companies in BMW and Volvo and Boeing that are potential customers of ours with the fiber aspect of this crop.”
But he added it could take 30,000 acres to fulfill the large industrial hemp demands of South Carolina manufacturers
He also hopes the pilot program will change public perception about hemp.
“I hope that the public will become more informed about CBD and hemp product in our state and not get the negative connotation that people seem to always want to tie it back to marijuana. It’s not marijuana. You’re not going to get high with hemp. It’s a good product for our state.”