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How Harford County farmers could benefit from growing hemp industry

In this 2017 file photo, a Kentucky farmer harvests hemp at Murray State University's West Farm. On Wednesday, an informational meeting will be held at the Harford County Extension Office in Street to discuss the burgeoning hemp industry for local farmers.
In this 2017 file photo, a Kentucky farmer harvests hemp at Murray State University's West Farm. On Wednesday, an informational meeting will be held at the Harford County Extension Office in Street to discuss the burgeoning hemp industry for local farmers. (Ryan Hermens / AP)

The hemp industry is burgeoning and a local delegate is hosting an information session next week to provide more insight for Harford County farmers about how they might be able to benefit from it.

“This is a really quickly emerging industry and can be quite lucrative,” Del. Andrew Cassilly said. “It’s opening a new market for farmers across the state.”

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He is hosting an informational meeting Wednesday, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., at the Harford County Extension Office, 3525 Conowingo Road in Street. In addition to Cassilly, Nick Tyson from Resonate Foods, Tim Schnupp from U.S. Cannalytics and Barry Pritchard from SunX Analytics will be discussing the new industry and speaking about their experiences.

They will discuss seed planting, harvesting and end product markets and answer questions about the “new agricultural commodity.”

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A number of questions remain about hemp and Andrew Kness, an agricultural educator for the University of Maryland Extension Office in Harford County.

“There’s a lot of risk involved right now,” Kness said.

Hemp was removed earlier this year from a list of Schedule 1 narcotics, opening it up to new markets, Cassilly said.

Through Colonial times, hemp has been used in rope and canvas, very strong materials, he said, but it went out of favor as cotton became more popular.

“During the 1940s, with reefer madness, everyone was scared to death pot would destroy the minds of the youth and [hemp] was grouped with marijuana,” Cassilly said, despite its low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the ingredient that causes the high from marijuana.

While hemp can still be used in those materials, as well as clothes, industrial materials and car parts, the oil in hemp — cannabidiol or CBD oil — is an “emerging craze” for medicinal purposes.

“The industry is just exploding. It’s being used in everything from therapeutic medicines to calm down dogs during storms to aches and pains and joint inflammation,” Cassilly said.

Cassilly, who is also the resource conservation manager for Harford County Public Schools, said hemp has unlimited uses from an agricultural aspect.

“More and more people are starting to recognize it as we’re starting to diversity our agricultural products,” he said.

Kness said the United States is far behind the rest of the world when it comes to using hemp. Other places already produce textiles and other products with hemp very cheaply, and he’s not sure if the United States can compete.

The challenge in Maryland will be to see “if we can actually sell this stuff to process into something,” Kness said. “Right now that’s the big question.”

Growability in the mid-Atlantic region is also in question. The humidity in the region brings pests and disease, he said, which could destroy the crops if they can’t be treated.

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Production could also be expensive, Kness said. He’s heard of costs from $600 to $700 an acre.

“That puts it higher than corn or soybeans, but the hope it will return more,” he said. “That remains to be seen.”

Another complicating factor is people who aren’t farmers want to become hemp farmers to grow the product.

“I think unfortunately people make a lot of mistakes and made bad decisions without farming background and experience,” Kness said.

“From a university standpoint, I’d like to pump the brakes a little,” he said. “But it’s a benefit to have this seminar to ask questions and for people to start learning a little bit more about it.”

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