Industrial hemp is a versatile agricultural plant which could one day be a valuable crop option for Pennsylvania farmers. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has taken some important steps toward making that a reality. Following Governor Wolf’s signing of the Industrial Hemp Research Act, Number 92 in 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program started issuing permits for research & growth of industrial hemp in 2017. Pennsylvania’s industrial hemp legislation was sparked by the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which gave federal permission for institutions of higher education or state Departments of Agriculture to research the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. As part of Pennsylvania’s Research Pilot Program, industrial hemp was legally grown in the Commonwealth after an 80 years hiatus. The Department of Agriculture has issued 35 research permits in the last two years to institutions of higher education and to farmers, business or individuals in contract with the Department to participate in the research of industrial hemp cultivation and marketing in Pennsylvania. In 2018, 35 research permits were issued to researchers, who cultivated industrial hemp in 25 Pennsylvania counties.
Some of the research focuses that were explored in 2018 were: comparison of various agronomic factors on industrial hemp (planting dates, tillage regimens, range of soil fertility, etc.); hemp variety comparison for suitability to PA growing conditions; study of the effectiveness of potential herbicide products; comparison of hemp’s capability for weed suppression to other crops; surveying hemp crops for presence of arthropod and disease pests; evaluation of hemp’s performance for phytoremediation and land reclamation; study of hemp seed oil processing and marketability; development of industrial hemp products (using grain, stalks and flowers); genetic selection for desired hemp variety characteristics; and evaluations of hemp as an animal feed ingredient (cattle).
The Department has policies and procedures in place for the commonwealth's hemp research program, which can be found in the 2019 Pilot Program Parameters. Researchers from institutions of higher education or growers who would like to be considered for participation in the 2019 program must submit a 2019 PDA Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program Permit Application prior to the application deadline of December 17, 2018. Researchers who participated in the 2018 Pilot Program may submit a Permit Renewal form by December 17, 2018 to continue their projects in the 2019 growing season.