ALBANY — With the state of Georgia poised to allow the growing and processing of hemp plants next year, one Albany company is already bullish on the plant.
Pretoria Farms Collective is planning to build a laboratory in Lee County to process hemp plants and is seeking farmers to grow a few acres with their spring planting.
On Thursday, Pretoria Fields officials will host farmers at the collective’s brewery at 120 Pine Ave.
A number of farmers have shown interest, and among them are pecan growers whose groves were devastated last year by Hurricane Michael, said Pretoria Fields farm manager Harris Morgan.
“We’ve got 390 to sign up so far,” Morgan said. “We’ve got farmers in Dougherty County. We’ve got farmers in Mitchell County, Baker County, Lee County. There are some of them who are signed up who had tremendous storm damage, and they’re looking to recover.”
Estimates are that some pecan growers will have to wait about 10 years for new trees to grow to replace production lost to the storm. Some 40 percent of the state’s pecan canopy was lost, either through uprooted trees or limbs blown off trees.
The state’s rules and regulations on growing hemp have not been finalized, but it is certain that growers will have to be associated with a processing facility in order to get permits to plant.
“In Georgia you’ve got to be attached to a processor in order to grow hemp,” Morgan said.
Pretoria Fields, which will plant some hemp at its farm in Mitchell County, plans to smart small and build the industry from the ground up. It is asking farmers to smart with a small amount – no more than 5 acres – the first year. It also will offer support for the growers.
The company will hire an agronomist to assist growers, Morgan said. It also will help in training workers to harvest the plant. Harvesting must be done by hand and carefully so as not to bruise the delicate flowers and leaves, which is the part of the plant that is sent for processing.
Growing hemp has some special requirements, as the processed product will be used in products sold for consumption by humans.
“You’ve got to use good practices,” Morgan said. “You can’t (grow hemp) on land right behind cotton, corn or peanuts.”
That’s because of potential contamination from farm herbicides and insecticides used in growing those row crops.
“Basically that means new ground or pastureland that hasn’t been used over the last three or four years,” Morgan said. “The cannabis plant takes up the nutrients in the soil. This stuff has to be grown practically organically. You’ve got to take care in what you’re doing.”
The meeting at Pretoria Fields starts at 6 p.m.
“I think it’s a good opportunity,” Morgan said. “The most important thing abut all this is we’re all trying to work together. We’re all going to learn together. It behooves us to start off small and work together.”