A rainbow appears over the hemp field at Penn State's research farm in Landisville, Pennsylvania.

KIRKWOOD, N.Y. — A proposed new processing facility could be a game-changer for upstate New York’s fast-growing hemp industry, which many struggling farmers are turning to as a way to supplement their income.

Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corp., North America’s first publicly traded cannabis company, has secured a 308,000-square-foot facility on a 48-acre property in Broome County, southeast of Binghamton and just above the Pennsylvania border.

Plans call for a more than $125 million Hemp Industrial Park. The state granted Canopy Growth a hemp license in January, allowing the company to establish operations and build a facility for hemp-derived cannabinoid extraction and processing for various applications. The new hemp facility will be capable of producing tons of hemp extract on an annual basis.

The company also hopes to attract businesses and researchers focused on every application of the hemp crop such as fibers, seeds and hemp-derived cannabinoids.

“The vision for our investment is to create an eco-system that inspires new entrepreneurs and generates more economic stimulus than a single company can offer,” said Bruce Linton, Canopy Growth chairman and chief executive officer. “As we build the facilities, we’ll also attract like-minded businesses who share our excitement for the emerging hemp and hemp-derived cannabinoid markets.”

Canopy Growth is Canada’s largest cannabis producer.

Under the latest U.S. Farm Bill, hemp is no longer classified the same as marijuana, giving farmers greater opportunities to grow it for a multitude of end uses.

Industrial hemp can be raised for grain, as fiber used to make textiles, or for CBD oil, which is used to make health and wellness products such as soaps, lotions and lip balm.

Industrial hemp is already a more than $800 million industry across the U.S.

Last year, there were approximately 3,500 acres of New York state farmland approved for industrial hemp research, compared to 2,000 acres in 2017.

Canopy Growth has begun securing farm capacity to supply enough hemp for its own future extraction and formulation activities within the park. It’s also reaching out to local farmers to help grow the crop for their operations.

The project will occupy a former Fletchar Manufacturing site, just off Interstate 81. It’s expected to create hundreds of jobs in a variety of fields including agriculture, technology, research and manufacturing.

Work is expected to begin this summer on retrofitting the site to meet company needs. Plans call for it to be up and running by the middle of next year.

Canopy will begin hiring senior leadership late this year and recruit the full workforce in 2020.

“We welcome Canopy Growth with open arms,” said Jason Garnar, Broome County executive. “We haven’t seen an investment like this in some time, and we’re so excited a company like them is setting up shop in our area.”

In addition to industry giant Canopy, a small start-up firm called Southern Tier Hemp plans to begin production soon in nearby Johnson City.

One Broome County official said the region could become the “Silicon Valley of hemp.”

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, was instrumental in adoption of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, included in the Farm Bill, which has paved the way for commercial cultivation of industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity.

“I am absolutely thrilled that Canopy believes as I do, that the Southern Tier, and specifically Broome County, is the perfect place to seed and grow the rapidly expanding industrial hemp industry,” Schumer said. “Canopy’s massive investment will create hundreds of good paying jobs, be a boon for area farmers, and will be a magnet to attract even more industry-related enterprises. I look forward to nurturing the Southern Tier as a hotbed for this burgeoning industry.”

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets is currently seeking letters of interest from agricultural cooperatives to participate in the state’s Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program. All new and existing agricultural cooperatives that have considered entering into the industrial hemp industry are encouraged to capitalize on this growing industry.

Agricultural cooperatives give New York farmers an opportunity to share resources and reduce financial risk in this emerging marketplace while growing, processing, producing and marketing industrial hemp and hemp products. Farmers in a cooperative are able to partner in the purchasing, testing, processing and distributing of farm supplies and farm business services.

Letters of interest from agricultural cooperatives wishing to participate in the industrial hemp research program must be submitted by June 6 to ag.dev@agriculture.ny.gov. Letters should provide information demonstrating the feasibility of growing, processing and producing industrial hemp or hemp products under a farm-owned business structure.

In addition, several informational sessions are planned across the state this fall to educate farmers about the industrial hemp program and the opportunities available to research partners for the 2020 growing season. A schedule will be posted on the agriculture department’s website this summer.

Industrial hemp grower applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Applicants are encouraged to take the time to develop thoughtful, well-researched applications. Applicants are advised to have firm commitments for the sale of the industrial hemp that they intend to grow and should focus on the 2020 growing season.

Any questions about the grower solicitation period may be sent to industrialhempNYS@agriculture.ny.gov.

Paul Post is a freelance writer in eastern New York. He can be reached at paulpost@nycap.rr.com.