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Industrial Hemp Eyed as New Cash Crop for Textiles and Beyond

The 2019 South Carolina Industrial Hemp Pilot Program is doubling in size for a second year to see if it could be the state’s new cash crop, as programs get going in states across the country.

The South Carolina project will have 40 farmers selected for permits to grow up to 40 acres of hemp next year. The hemp plant, with a durable fiber used for manufacturing, was banned in the early 1970s. But lawmakers reconsidered the ban when they realized the difference, and the potential hemp could add too the industry, and in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, Congress gave states the choice to grow the plant.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the plant is used in more than 25,000 products spanning nine markets, including agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food and beverages, paper, construction materials and personal care. While hemp and marijuana products both come from the cannabis plant, hemp is distinguished by its physical appearance and lower concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), NCSL noted.

South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said by expanding the industrial hemp program, it will provide a greater opportunity to assess where and how industrial hemp grows best in the state. South Carolina began its first pilot program this year, selecting 20 farmers across the state to grow up to 20 acres of hemp each. The pilot has the hemp harvest beginning next month. Colorado, Kentucky California, Indiana, Maine, North Carolina and Oregon have initiated hemp growing and seeding initiatives.

The amount of land used to grow industrial hemp in the United States more than doubled in 2017 compared to 2016. According to the lobby group Vote Hemp, 23,343 acres of hemp were under cultivation in 2017, up from 9,770 acres the year prior.

Applications for the pilot program must be completed and postmarked by June 29. To qualify for a permit, applicants must be residents of South Carolina residents, and they’ll have to pass a state and federal background check and have a signed contract with an industrial hemp manufacturer, submitting exact coordinates for where the hemp will be grown.