Monday, June 5, 2017
Delivery of hemp seeds to Rodale in Berks delayed
By Lisa Scheid
But delays in importing the seeds have held back planting.
BTH | Farmland by the Rodale Institute , along Kunkel Road in Maxatawny Township. Rodale will grow hemp to learn about potential benefits of industrial hemp as a cash or cover crop for weed control and soil health.
The 2014 Farm Bill may have allowed hemp to be grown for research, but farmers across Pennsylvania are discovering getting the seed into the ground isn't easy. Actually, getting seed at all has been a challenge.Enabled by state legislation passed last year, the state Department of Agriculture announced permits in March for 16 projects to study hemp, a crop that has been banned for more than 80 years. Most of the researchers - including one in Berks - had hoped to start planting around Mother's Day.
"We've had every possible conceivable delay in the book," said Dr. Ruth Welliver, director of the bureau of plant industry, which is overseeing the project. "We've received the bulk of the seeds now."Although a few weeks delay may seem small, it could impact the research, farmers said. Hemp takes about 100 to 120 days to grow, and summer is the best time to grow it. Weather could further delay plantings, but farmers said they remain confident they will be able to complete their projects. A Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council-Lehigh University project was planted this week in Bethlehem and a project in Berks County is expected to be planted next week.Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa, the same plant as marijuana, and was outlawed in the 1970s under the Controlled Substance Act. Hemp, however, contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.It remains a controlled substance. A provision in the 2014 Farm Bill opened the door for research projects. State Sen. Judy Schwank, a Berks County Democrat, helped pass legislation signed by the governor last year that could return the crop - used in everything from face cream to clothing - to Pennsylvania fields.To get the seeds, the state had to apply for an import permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Welliver said the state applied for the permit in October but not did receive it until March. That held up the researchers who then had to apply for DEA permits and the seed companies, which had to apply for export permits. When the seeds reach the border, they are also inspected for plant health, which is common for importing any plants. Then, because the state holds the import permit, the seeds had to be shipped to Harrisburg. Farmers have to travel to the capital to pick up their seeds."It's a tortuous system," said Welliver. "Much of this was unexpected."Researchers imported hemp from six seed sources in three countries: Canada, Bulgaria and Italy. They had sought seeds from United Kingdom and Australia, but those did not work out, Welliver said.Welliver said the state knew the process was long, but thought the DEA's experience in other states would make Pennsylvania's smoother. A DEA spokesman could not be reached for comment Friday evening."It was like they (DEA) were starting from scratch," Welliver said. "A process we thought would take a month took six."This has happened before in other states, said Lauren Stansbury, communications director for the Hemp Industry Association.Kentucky, which permitted hemp in 2013, sued the DEA in 2014 to release 250 pounds of seed. The agency cited conflicting laws as to why it impounded the imports. After Kentucky's federal suit, the state and the DEA compromised. That state's industry is growing.Rodale Institute in Maxatawny Township is growing the hemp organically to learn about potential benefits of industrial hemp as a cash or cover crop for weed control and soil health. Getting the seeds into the ground as soon as it is prepared is important so that the plants take root before the weeds do, said Ross Duffield, Rodale's farm manager. Duffield said he hoped to get his 220 pounds of four different varietals in the ground on Wednesday, weather permitting. He is the only person from Rodale permitted to pick up the seeds. His seeds came from Canada and Italy."The seeds from Italy were flown to JFK (airport) and held in customs for quite awhile," Duffield said. About nine days, he said.Rodale's research involves fiber of the plant and not seeds, so there is enough time to grow this summer, Duffield said."The nice thing about hemp is it is reasonably forgiving," Duffield said. "We should have a good season under our belt to conduct our research."Exeter-based Pennsylvania Industrial Hemp Council planted its first 200 pounds of seeds in a 3-acre plot in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County, this week. The group got its seeds from a Canadian seed company, said Erica McBride, secretary/treasurer of the council. It addition to other delays and a holiday, McBride said, the truck delivering the seed went to the wrong border crossing. Only one crossing is authorized to do plant inspection. All told PIHC bought 670 pounds of seeds for three projects."That was definitely an adventure," said McBride. She said she'd prefer to buy seeds from other states but understands that Pennsylvania was trying to work within an established framework.The hemp council has partnered with Lehigh University, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Resources at Pinchot state forest in Luzerne County and a former zinc mine in Lehigh County.The projects will:Isolate and identify hemp components with antimicrobial activity under laboratory conditions.Evaluate use of hemp for erosion control and phytoremediation of heavy metals; study absorption and distribution of contaminants within the plant.Test plant material for use in biomanufacturing nanosheets as a matrix for quantum dots.There's another state-approved project for the Berks region. That is by GenCanna Global Inc. and is listed for Berks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties. It would measure protein profiles, growth and yields under different growing watering conditions; study storage stability; and explore local processing options. GenCanna was instrumental in establishing the Kentucky Hemp Research Campus.There are still challenges ahead.Duffield said the next challenge is harvest time. The state has mandated that all plant material must be destroyed, but farmers are hoping they can sell their plants to help fund their projects.Will researchers experience the same difficult importing process next year?Welliver, the state's plant industry director, held out hope that the legislators at the state and federal level could work out a better system."This year will be memorable for many people," she said