Published: Thu, August 22, 2019 1:05 AM
Updated: Thu, August 22, 2019 1:22 AM
Industrial hemp that is being grown by Midwest Hemp at one of its Oklahoma locations. [PROVIDED BY KARI COOPER/KC PHOTOS]
Interest in industrial hemp grew like a weed in Oklahoma this year.
State agricultural officials said this week 351 growers obtained licenses this year through Oklahoma’s research-based pilot program, compared to just 28 the previous year.
Those growers, they said, aimed to plant the crop on 21,340 acres in 2019, compared to just 445 acres the previous year.
They also planned to grow the crop using 324,202 square feet of space inside greenhouses or other growing facilities, compared to the 80,000 square feet of inside space licensed for growth in 2018.
Officials said the explosive growth in interest is tied both to current economic conditions, where growers are looking for crops with a better cash return than wheat, and to expectations they will be able to grow industrial hemp starting next year with far fewer hassles than they experience today.
“The reality is, people are trying something different,” said Kenny Naylor, food safety and consumer protection services director at Oklahoma’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
Oklahoma created its research-based pilot program after Congress approved the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
The federal law removed industrial hemp from the Schedule 1 category of the Controlled Substances Act, authorized crop insurance programs for industrial hemp growers and allowed for hemp clones and seedlings to cross state lines. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law in early January.