According to Cornell Cooperative Extension the hemp industry has tripled every year over the last 3 years. Roughly 40 farmers from around the region attended a question and answer summit pertaining to the viability of growing industrial hemp. Local farmers like Tim Wightman are looking for ways to supplement a struggling dairy industry.
"We’re starting to see consolidation. We’re starting to see price drops. We’re starting to see larger and larger organic farms. So we’re looking for diversification instead of just getting a whole lot more cows."
Larry Smart is a Professor of Horticulture at Cornell University. He explained in great detail the obstacles associated with growing hemp, and also touched on some regulations that still need to be worked out in next year’s Farm Bill. One problem with hemp is distinguishing it from marijuana.
"Visually you can not distinguish industrial hemp which has low THC. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana. The legal threshold is 0.3%, which is nowhere near enough to get you high."
The Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency is trying to market the area for potential hemp production. Executive Director John Piseck believes farmers would benefit from hemp production without all the complications of the potential marijuana industry.
"There’s many different products that can be made from industrial hemp. It’s not the same way when you grow marijuana. You have to have this huge secure facility. The people that know the differences aren’t going to go after the industrial hemp to try to do anything with it."
While the interest in growing hemp was well attended, farmers like Tim Wightman are weighing in the regulatory restrictions, financial demands, and the competition with a global market.
"For us to say ok we’re going to take it and grab it and run. No. Those days are over. I mean it’s not something smart people do anymore, and we’d like to think we’re a smart farm."
New York farmers are also considering the growing season of hemp, and what to do with the leftover product once it’s been processed.