By Judy Simpson
ALBURGH, Vt. -
You can't legally grow pot in Vermont, but you can grow hemp.
At Borderview research farm the plants are coming up. From hops, to cover crops, to vegetables - research is underway. But it is the latest crop that is getting some attention. Industrial hemp is a distant cousin to marijuana.
"It's band row planting so it's a pretty wide strip and then adjacent to it is standard row spacing 6 inch spacing," said Abha Gupta, UVM Extension Crops and Soils coordinator.
While the state gave the OK to grow industrial hemp in Vermont in 2013, it is still considered a controlled substance by the federal government. There are now a handful of Vermont farms growing this crop. They must register with the state but that does not protect them from legal challenges at the federal level.
"These have been in for about a week," said Gupta.
But now, under the 2014 farm bill, universities are allowed to conduct research on industrial hemp. The University of Vermont planted its first crop this spring.
Hemp is versatile. It can be made into everything from fabric to fuel to food. All of the plant can be used to make something. The one thing industrial hemp does not have, much THC, the chemical that makes pot. There are signs on the farm to reinforce that fact.
"Industrial hemp has minuscule 0.03 percent and below levels of THC, so there is nothing recreational about that," said Heather Darby, UVM Extension agronomist.
So what is driving this move to grow industrial hemp? There is a growing market for it.
"There are some fiber businesses and oil businesses, one example is Full Sun which is an oil company located in Middlebury. They are looking to purchase hemp oil so they are working with local farmers to grow the crop for them," said Darby.
Meanwhile work here will continue, researching different varieties of hemp, the best way to plant and the best time to plant for maximum yield.
"Our goal is to keep this research going on for multiple years and really get to know this crop of industrial hemp for how productive and versatile how useful it really could be," said Gupta.
And then sharing that information with farmers who want to grow the crop.