Plans for PA russell redding

At this moment in Pennsylvania, we spell opportunity H-e-m-p. As state government, it has been our goal to grow opportunities for Pennsylvania’s farmers and agriculture businesses — to foster the conversations, and provide the tools needed to build processing businesses, a supply chain, markets, and ultimately, sustainable income and new jobs. We are building a new industry, literally from the ground up.

Hemp farming and fiber production were an important part of our state heritage until the door was closed by federal regulation 70 years ago. When Congress reopened that door with the 2014 federal Farm Bill, Pennsylvania wedged a boot firmly in the door early and built a robust research program to explore the range of issues tied to building a hemp market in Pennsylvania. Two years later, we have laid a strong foundation.

When the door opened wider with the 2018 federal Farm Bill, we didn’t hesitate to build on that foundation. We were the second state to submit a program plan to USDA and begin to issue permits. The response was tremendous, with more than 10 times the permits issued in 2018. Growers this year are a mix of established farms growing fiber varieties, new growers producing CBD-producing varieties, and researchers from previous years continuing to glean the information we so badly need to build a hemp economy in Pennsylvania.

Continued research is a tremendous need, not just to discover new uses to add to the tens of thousands of end products hemp can become, but to better understand the crop — the agronomy, pest control, harvesting methods, seed quality and technology that go into making it a sustainable crop, and creating a viable supply to attract processors.

The department is fully engaged with our counterparts in other states, and with the federal Environmental Protection Agency on getting approved pesticides and insecticides for use on hemp. We submitted comments to EPA supporting their move to allow labeling for hemp use. We’re hopeful it will clear up regulatory confusion among growers, eliminating one of many unknowns.

When the door of opportunity opened, there were lots of unknowns. We can’t be 100% sure that aspects of the program won’t change, but we’re not sitting on our hands. We’re moving ahead. Our priority is ensuring that Pennsylvania farmers can take full advantage of new opportunities, and that they have the tools and resources to succeed.

In the first year of our research program, we formed a hemp steering committee to bring key people to the table to share their expertise, ask difficult questions, provide valuable and differing perspectives, and help navigate the complex issues involved in building a new industry. The committee recommended holding a Hemp Summit — creating an opportunity to bring resources and experts from federal and state government, industry, finance and insurance worlds together in one place so that current and potential hemp producers could pick their brains and inform their business plans.

The 2019 Pennsylvania Hemp Summit, will come to fruition Oct. 7 and 8 at the Lancaster Convention Center, offering valuable sessions for investors, businesses and farmers. Keynote speaker GenCanna President and Founder Steve Bevan, will share his experiences helping define the operations of all aspects of GenCanna’s vertically integrated hemp production, including cultivation, processing, extraction, refinement, product formulation and sales. He will be joined by HempFlax CEO Mark Reinders, who will share his expertise working with European automakers to supply interior car parts, and his vision for hemp as a sustainable alternative to cotton. Steve and Mark will lead a line-up of experts from every sector from finance, to production, and from animal feed to environmental regulations.

We know hemp is a versatile, environmentally-friendly alternative to numerous industrial materials and commercial products. Together, we will continue to explore what it will take to attract processors to Pennsylvania, assure a reliable supply of raw materials, and pave the way for manufacturers to set up shop here and use hemp products. We will also continue to explore what we can do to help assure farmers who invest in the crop that there will be a market, financing, insurance, effective pest control, and the science and technology they need to succeed over the long haul.

We hope you’ll join us at the 2019 Pennsylvania Hemp Summit as we grow our future together in hemp.

Russell Redding is Pennsylvania’s secretary of agriculture.