Growing Hemp A Tricky Proposition In Florida

An industrial hemp research project in Florida has been completed, finding significant environmental and economic challenges.

University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has wrapped up two years of research into hemp. The goals of the project were to:

  • assess hemp varieties’ suitability for Florida
  • develop hemp management strategies
  • evaluate the invasion risk of hemp

The research was carried out in trials across the state at both UF/IFAS research sites and private farms.

The not-so-good news is the researchers were unable to find a variety that could be recommended, although there are a few potential candidates. They noted that varieties from northern origins will likely mature and flower too rapidly, and many varieties are not yet stable in terms of plant growth or THC development.

The researchers warned many varieties exceeded the 0.3% total THC threshold allowable, putting farmers at risk of “hot crops” being destroyed and also other legal action. They also determined there was a potential for invasiveness, hardly surprising given hemp’s hardiness and its nickname of “weed”.

One of the hard lessons learned was the importance of having a pest management plan prior to importing hemp into an operation. While a robust plant, there are plenty of hemp pests that can have a significant impact on a crop – and quite quickly.

“The day after receiving the first stock plants at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, researchers found both aphids and whiteflies,” state the researchers.

They note the plants had already passed phytosanitary inspections by local regulatory staff and those in the states of origin. Worryingly, most hemp plant shipments received were infested with either the cannabis aphid or the hemp russet mite – neither of which are established in Florida.

“In summary, the UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project team efforts over the past two years show aspects of hemp cultivation that could lead to a viable agricultural commodity for Florida stakeholders, but more research and funding for such efforts is needed,” states the final report.

The full report can be accessed here.

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