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Industrial hemp can be used in a variety of products that utilize fiber, grain and, most recently, pharmaceuticals.

Paper, molded plastics, textiles, construction materials, body care products, oil and food supplements for human and pet consumption are just a few of the many products created from industrial hemp.

Because of its many uses, hemp has been grown for thousands of years by many cultures. People have used the hemp plant for traditional medicine as well as for dietary and nutrition purposes. Hemp seeds are highly nutritious and can be pressed into oil or eaten raw. Hulled hemp seeds are known as hemp hearts.

Under the current Farm Bill, the federal government has eased many restrictions related to industrial hemp production, and this change has led to increased product development. These regulatory changes have increased the potential of growing industrial hemp for a greater number of farmers. Many states have specific regulations that are unique to their borders, and growers need to consult with their own departments of agriculture registration rules before attempting to grow industrial hemp.

Production practices such as time of planting, spacing and nutrition methods can be modified depending on the variety and desired use of the plant. Industrial hemp that is produced for fiber is often grown close together to encourage the plants to be taller and produce maximum fiber.

Many companies have recently been developing novel machines designed specifically to harvest hemp as more acreage is grown in the U.S. The timing of harvest is related to the age of the plant as well as the variety. For varieties that are grown for both grain and fiber, the flowering head of the plant is often removed first to be used for seed processing. The time of this activity is related to the maturity and moisture content of the seed. The stalks used for fiber are often left in the field to partially break down in a process known as retting. This allows for easier processing of the fiber.

With market demands for products created from industrial hemp on the rise, farmers now have a new potentially highly profitable commodity to grow in Pennsylvania.

Kati Kusant is an environmental science major at Delaware Valley University. She is a graduate of Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington, New Jersey, and has been involved in a variety of hands-on community service projects.

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