Peter Mourmouras, left, and his son Thomas, spoke to the Houlton Town Council March 27 about their plans for Houlton to become a test site for industrial hemp. The two they have spoken with a local potato farmer about using hemp as a rotational crop as part of a clinical trial to see how well the product replenishes nutrients in the soil. (Joseph Cyr | HPT)
HOULTON, Maine — An Old Orchard Beach-based group is looking at southern Aroostook County as a potential test site for industrial hemp.
Peter Mourmouras and his son Thomas of the Maine Commercial Growers Association spoke to members of the Houlton Town Council March 27 about their desire to introduce hemp to the Houlton area.
Hailing from Old Orchard Beach, the father and son said they have spoken with a local potato farmer about using hemp as a rotational crop on his land as part of a clinical trial to see how well the product replenishes nutrients in the soil.
“We are doing studies with hemp,” Peter Mourmouras said. “Hemp is the ‘cousin’ of marijuana. It does not get you high. The reason we want to bring it to your town is we are testing it in every hardiness zone in the state.”
Mourmouras said he felt hemp could become an ideal in-between crop for potato growers in Aroostook County.
“We don’t have to tell you how to grow potatoes up here, but as you know, the ground has to lie fallow after a year or two,” he said. “You can use clover or grass to try to put nitrogen back into the soil.”
The Department of Agriculture has allowed the MCGA to grow hemp in the state and the MCGA has selected a number locations around the state, but would like to have one of its primary sites based in Houlton.
“We thought this was a perfect opportunity for Houlton to be the epicenter for what we are doing,” he said. “We want to have demonstration fields set up.
The MCGA is also conducting studies at the University of New England on opioid use to see if cannabinoids extracted from the hemp plants can help with withdrawal symptoms.
“We know marijuana may have a certain stigma associated with it, but hemp is the ‘good cousin,’” he said.
Mourmouras said the goal is to identify four test plots in Houlton, with at least one field containing pesticides in the ground, to see if growing hemp can help remove those contagions from the soil.
“If it works out, we will bring all of the seeds back to your town and hopefully start a pilot program with your farmers,” Mourmouras said. “We want to see how much we can improve the soil and how much more efficient we can make potato growing. Hopefully this will work out for everyone and be a win-win-win situation.”
Thomas Mourmouras, who serves as president of the MCGA, said his organization works with a number of commercial cultivators in the state. As a side project, the MCGA will be extracting the hemp oils and using them for additional UNE medical trials. There is also the possibility that hemp seeds could be generated from the plots, which could also be used for marketing and boost employment for the region.
Members of the Town Council expressed excitement about the possibility of Houlton becoming the “epicenter” for this project and the potential jobs it could create if the soil tests prove fruitful. Councilors took no formal action at the meeting, as it was informational only.
The mission statement for MCGA is “Agriculture has long played a major role in Maine’s economy. This association serves to protect and advance the local, commercial cultivators of cannabis in the state of Maine, while improving surrounding communities through education and outreach.”
For more information, visit their website at https://www.mainecga.com.