Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pennsylvania needs industrial hemp legislation now

Source: lancasteronline.com

Stark photo
Les Stark

“The time to enact legislation that will allow our farmers to cultivate industrial hemp is right now.” That was the last line in my op-ed for the former Sunday News (an LNP predecessor) way back in 2000; it was headlined “Putting the hemp back in Hempfield.”
One might ask, “Are we any closer today to passing industrial hemp legislation?”
The answer is yes: We are very close.
There are two bills currently awaiting floor votes in the Pennsylvania General Assembly: Senate Bill 50 and House Bill 967. Both bills were introduced with bipartisan support into their respective Agricultural and Rural Affairs committees. In May, the issue received a bicameral hearing. In October, both committees voted unanimously to send the bills to the floor for a vote.
Both bills attempt to align Pennsylvania law with current federal law. The federal farm bill, passed in 2014, contains Section 7606, which allows farmers to grow hemp if they are affiliated with a university research program or are licensed by their state departments of agriculture — provided those states have passed pro-hemp legislation.
Currently, 27 states have passed laws that align with Section 7606, allowing their farmers to grow hemp. Kentucky cultivated 3,000 acres of hemp last year and is entering its third season for the crop. Colorado, entering its fourth year of cultivating industrial hemp, will put in another several thousand acres.
A half-dozen states grew hemp last year. This year, a dozen states are  expected to grow it, including New York. If Pennsylvania can pass hemp legislation right now, our state’s farmers may be able to get seeds in the ground this spring. A delay will force them to wait an entire year while their competitors take the lead.
As a board member of the newly created Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, I talked to hundreds of people this year at the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. It was the organization's debut event. The council’s mission is to get the legislation over the finish line and then to match up interested farmers with industries that can make use of the seed, stalk, fiber and cellulose of the hemp plant.
Overall, we talked to thousands of people and found there is much excitement about industrial hemp in Pennsylvania. No surprise there: After all, the Lancaster Farm Bureau passed pro-hemp resolutions all the way back in 1999 and 2000. Farmers all across the state are ready to go, and we have industry ready to commit to buying crops of hemp right away. Never before has there been this much excitement. We are so close now that we can feel it — the birth of a new billion-dollar industry in the commonwealth.
In Pennsylvania, we will use hemp for flooring products, composite materials, plastics, paper, Hempcrete building materials, food products for human consumption, livestock and poultry feed, horse bedding, biofuels, land remediation, cover crops, auto parts and many other exciting applications.
We have everything going for us here: a rich history of hemp production, an innovative agricultural industry, some of the best soil on earth, and close proximity to all major markets on the East Coast. With those kind of advantages, Pennsylvania is positioned to not just participate, but to lead in the emerging American hemp industry.
All we are waiting for is the industrial hemp bills to be scheduled for votes on the floor. The General Assembly should act now. We are positive a hemp bill will pass and be signed into law.
This will be a positive step for the entire state, creating jobs, protecting the environment and helping agriculture. That’s what’s called a win-win-win.
Les Stark, a Lancaster County native who lives in Berks County, is the author of “Hempstone Heritage I” and a board member of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council. He will present a program on the history and future of industrial hemp production in the Lancaster County area from 1-3 p.m. Feb. 27 at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum; call 569-0401, ext. 214, to register by Feb. 19.

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