PA hemp industry awarded more than $390k from Shapiro Administration

To fund projects aimed at growing fiber and food hemp markets, sales, and awareness in Pennsylvania, three agricultural nonprofits have been granted a total of $392,265. 

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced the funding Thursday. 

“Pennsylvania has been making history, building a new hemp industry from roots up,” Redding said in a statement. “These grants feed the growth of an industry that was once a staple of Pennsylvania’s economy and is once again growing opportunities for new businesses, farm income, jobs, and climate-smart, environmentally sound projects.” 

Following are the grant recipients, amounts, and their projects: 

  • Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, $56,000 – Funding will be used for a campaign to promote the benefits of hemp and create markets for hemp-based products. The council is building a collaboration among farmers and other businesses, investors, government agencies, and communities to bring hemp back to Pennsylvania’s farms. 
  • U.S. Ecological Advanced Research & Conservation Hub Hemp Certificate Program for Disadvantaged Communities (USEARCH), $20,500 – Funds will be used in the development of an educational program for disadvantaged communities including youth, veterans, and women to enable them to get involved in the hemp industry. USEARCH is a Mayfield, Lackawanna County-based nonprofit focused on researching agricultural technologies and products derived through them. 
  • Vytal Plant Science Research, $315,765 – Funds will be used to introduce a STEM curriculum to high schools and universities to effectively engage in industrial hemp production, management, and cultivation by promoting and marketing industrial hemp for its many uses such as food, fiber, fuel, industrial, and personal care products. 

Up to half of the project costs are reimbursed through grant funds. Funding was awarded in a competitive process, with special consideration for projects that leverage other funding and public-private partnerships. 

Matching grants represent one way Pennsylvania is feeding growth in the hemp industry. Other support includes creating state-level Specialty Crop Block grants through the PA Farm Bill when federal funding for hemp was not yet available, funding key research and development at state higher education institutions and convening the PA Hemp Steering Committee to foster relationships among colleges and university researchers, growers, processors, investors, and insurers. 

As more than $500,000 has been awarded since the beginning of the Shapiro Administration, the Agriculture department’s grant investments in growing a hemp industry surpass $1.5 million.

High priority placed on hemp sales, exports in PA

Proposals for nonprofit marketing and promotion organizations for projects designed to increase sales, export or consumer awareness of Pennsylvania hemp products were called for Monday by Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. 

The minimum grant is $1,000. Eligible projects may include regional or national promotion, and those that leverage other funding and public-private partnerships will receive special consideration. Projects must have started on or after July 1, 2022, and must be completed prior to or on June 30, 2023. A competitive process will be used to select applications. 

“Hemp has presented a unique opportunity to grow an industry from the ground up, supplying seemingly limitless sustainable construction materials, fiber and food products,” Redding said. “These grants will feed a new industry that was once a staple of Pennsylvania’s economy and is again presenting opportunities for farm income and jobs as well as new possibilities for climate-friendly, environmentally beneficial products.” 

To apply for grants, qualified nonprofits can visit the PA Department of Community and Economic Development online application system. Applications will be accepted up to December 2, 2022, at 5 p.m. EST. Grant guidelines are listed in the October 15, 2022, issue of the Pennsylvania Bulletin. 

More than $157,000 was awarded in 2021 to three projects aimed at increasing consumer awareness of hemp products in PA and increase fiber and food hemp markets and opportunities in the commonwealth. The Wolf Administration has used matching grants to feed growth in the hemp industry. To date, hemp-specific grant investments total more than $923,000. 

Additional information regarding hemp in Pennsylvania can be found by visiting Agriculture.pa.gov/hemp.

Pennsylvania opens 2022 hemp permit applications

Pennsylvania farmers can now apply for permits to grow or process hemp for the 2022 season.

The state Department of Agriculture announced on Thursday that hemp grower applications for commercial use or research are due by April 1, 2022.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding also encouraged 2021 growers to report their production, harvest, yield and sales figures by responding to the USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service’s 2021 Hemp Acreage and Production Survey.

“With hemp growers in nearly every county, and more than 60 processors statewide, Pennsylvania’s hemp supply chain is growing steadily,” said Redding. “With cutting-edge research into exciting new products that promise to bring dollars to our economy and sustainable, green solutions in textiles, architecture and design, we are pleased to invest in making Pennsylvania an industry leader. The data growers provide informs solid decision-making by those positioned to invest and grow opportunities.”

For 2021, the department issued 426 hemp growing permits including nine research permits and 64 processing permits including two research permits.

Pennsylvania introduced its Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program in 2017. In 2019, the state lifted its 100-acre cap on research plots and created its commercial program under the 2019 federal Farm Bill.

Pennsylvania accepting applications for 2021 commercial hemp production

The state is opening the applications for its 2021 hemp program for commercial growers and processors.

The state Department of Agriculture will begin accepting mail-in applications Dec. 5. Online applications will be accepted starting in January.

This year was the second year of the state’s commercial growing program following a two-year research pilot.

The state issued permits to more than 500 growing sites and 60 processors, which are valid through 2021.

“Hemp production represents a return to our heritage and a wealth of new opportunities,” said state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Hemp has seemingly endless uses as sustainable building materials, fabrics, paper and resins, plus scores of food products all spell out a bright future for growers and processors alike. Pennsylvania is committed to creating a commercial hemp program that works for small and large growers, new and established businesses, and urban and traditional agriculture.”

Applications for 2021 Hemp permits will be accepted from Dec. 5, 2020 through April 1, 2021. The 2021 program, similar to the 2020 program, is operating under the requirements of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill and the USDA Interim Final Rule for hemp production.

For those who want more information, the Pennsylvania Hemp Summit Interactive Virtual Summit will be held Dec. 8 and 9. It will provide information on navigating regulations, filling processing needs, building infrastructure and supply chains.

State announces application period for 2020 hemp program

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is preparing for the state’s second year of commercial-scale hemp production, and will begin accepting applications from growers and processors to participate in the 2020 hemp program.

Last year was the first that Pennsylvania’s farmers could grow and process hemp commercially, following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which allowed for the production and sale of commercial hemp throughout the country.

“The re-emergence of hemp in Pennsylvania represents a bounty of opportunity,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “It’s in our buildings and cars, it’s food and fuel, and it’s power to Pennsylvania’s economy.”

In its first year, the Department of Agriculture permitted 324 growers to raise hemp on more than 4,000 acres. Since the 2019 commercial growing season, the department has prohibited a number of hemp crop varieties that were shown to yield THC levels over the legal limit.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana and the state’s hemp must test below the legal threshold of 0.3 or that product is destroyed.

The department plans to accept applications for the upcoming season from Jan. 4 to April 1.

USDA pilot program makes hemp crops eligible for insurance

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that hemp farmers in 21 states will be eligible for crop insurance next year, including some in Pennsylvania.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) will handle the pilot insurance program designed to provide Actual Production History coverage under Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) for eligible producers in certain counties in Pennsylvania. Department officials said the list of eligible counties will be announced in early 2020.

The MPCI coverage is for hemp grown for fiber, grain or CBD oil for the 2020 crop year. The insurance option is in addition to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection coverage available to hemp growers that was announced earlier in 2019.

“We are excited to offer coverage to certain hemp producers in this pilot program,” said Martin Barbre, RMA’s administrator. “Since this is a pilot program, we look forward to feedback from producers on the program in the coming crop year.”

Hemp grows on a farm in Lancaster County. (Photo: Michael Yoder)

The 2018 Farm Bill amended the Controlled Substances Act to address how industrial hemp is defined and regulated at the federal level, clearing the way for the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to offer policies for hemp.  The Farm Bill defines hemp as containing 0.3% or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry-weight basis.

To be eligible for the MPCI pilot program, hemp growers must comply with state, tribal, or federal regulations for hemp production, have at least one year of history producing the crop and have a contract for the sale of the insured hemp. Producers also must be a part of a state or university research pilot, as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, or be licensed under a state, tribal, or federal program approved under the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service interim final rule issued in October.

Provisions in the MPCI state that hemp having THC above the federal legal level will not constitute an insurable loss.

Hemp is big business in Pa.

This year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issued more than 300 permits to grow hemp on nearly 600 acres at more than 800 locations around the state, according to a press release.

Gov. Wolf visiting a hemp farm in Blair County -submitted

Hemp and marijuana are different species of the same plant, but unlike marijuana, hemp is grown mainly for fiber and seed and must maintain a lower concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding highlighted the opportunities available to hemp growers and processors across the commonwealth at a recent visit to a hemp farm in Blair County.

Pennsylvania has a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on a new and in-demand market for hemp,” said Wolf. “This is a versatile product with many uses, and it’s a product that consumers want.”

Pennsylvania recently designated hemp as a controlled plant, which requires all growers to register and obtain permits through the Department of Agriculture.

“Hemp is a new/old crop that has the potential to make a big impact on Pennsylvania’s agricultural and economic landscape,” said Sec. Redding. “It’s a crop with both a rich history and a bright future here in the commonwealth.”

This summer, Wolf signed a state farm bill that created a state-level grant program to invest in and encourage farming of hemp.

Hemp was grown in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States until after World War II but became regulated along with marijuana and its cultivation was prohibited.




CBD oil is hot. But will it burn out?

Sally Crowe of Shaffer’s Health Center restocks a display of CBD oil products for sale in the Allentown Farmers market shop. PHOTO/STACY WESCOE –

Cannabidiol Oil – or CBD oil as it is commonly called – is hot right now.

People are buying it, selling it and investing in it.

CBD oil is made from hemp plants – whose cultivation was legalized under the 2018 federal farm bill, making the development of CBD-based products easier and less expensive.

The oil is touted as having many curative properties, from relieving anxiety, a claim most people familiar with CBD oil accept as likely true, to more far-reaching claims that it can be used to treat everything from the common cold to cancer. There are even CBD oil-based products for pets.

Overall, the U.S. CBD market could represent a $16 billion opportunity by 2025, according to a recent report by Cowen Inc., a New York-based investment firm.

However, skeptics of the oil’s benefits, and even some of its strongest supporters, sing a familiar refrain when it comes to investing in the CBD boom: “buyer beware.”

CBD Everywhere

CBD oil-based products have been on the market since 2014 through what Geoff Whaling of the National Hemp Association described as a “narrow interpretation” of that year’s federal farm bill, which allowed for limited growing of hemp for experimental testing. The 2018 bill cleared the way for wider farming of hemp, and the use of CBD products made commercial sales more appealing to more traditional retailers.

The products – including vapes, salves, capsules, tinctures and gummies – can now be found on the shelves at a wide variety of retailers, from health food stores to truck stops. CBD shops are even  opening in malls around the nation, while mainstream retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and footwear chain DSW have started selling CBD products.

The Altoona-based Sheetz chain of convenience stores is among them. It has added CBD products to 140 of its 580 locations, including stores in Bethlehem, Harrisburg and York.

“We’re always listening to our customers,” said Brad Campbell, category manager for Sheetz. “As it becomes increasingly popular, we wanted to provide this.”

Campbell said that while the company had been eyeing the sale of CBD products for some time, the changes in the 2018 farm bill helped to legitimize the product.

“I’m not sure getting into this is something we would have considered otherwise,” he said.

No Regulation

Because the market is so relatively new and growing so quickly, sales have been likened to the Wild West, with little regulation or information on how CBD oil products are sold, claims about their benefits and the actual amount of CBD oil in products on the shelves.

Not all products on the market do or contain what they say.

Whaling noted that in 2015 the Food and Drug Administration tested a number of CBD oil products and found that 34 out of 38 contained less CBD oil than they claimed, with many containing little to no CBD oil at all.

Dr. Bruce Nicholson, a pain-management specialist with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, who was involved in helping to craft Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana bill, said similar tests conducted more recently by the University of Pennsylvania and John Hopkins University found that CBD levels in the products they tested were “all over the board.”

Needless to say, he has his reservations about the proliferations of CBD oil products and the claims made on their behalf.

“With something that you get at a trucks stop, you might as well put your money in the lottery,” Nicholson said. “Your odds of a good outcome are about the same.”

Many retailers tend to agree.

Sheetz’s Campbell said the company reviewed a number of CBD-oil products before choosing a handful of brands that the company felt were “strong” while still providing a variety of options.

Tom Crowe, who owns Shaffer’s Health Center in the Allentown Farmers Market, said he has tried a number of brands for his own chronic pain with mixed results.

“There’s so many companies out there that sell it, but 70 to 80 percent of them you’d want to throw in the trash,” he said.

Currently, Crowe said he uses and carries a line of CBD oil products that has greatly relieved his own back and knee pain and won positive feedback from his customers.

He said anyone looking to try CBD oil products should talk to someone with experience rather than just try something they find on a shelf. He notes CBD oil products are on the expensive side. His line ranges in price from $18 for a small bottle of oil to hundreds of dollars for a larger, stronger supply.

Generally, his customers tell him they’re using CBD products for joint pain, inflammation and anxiety. Many have been happy with the results, judging by the repeat sales.

“There’s been a tremendous increase in business,” he said.

Not enough testing

Nicholson’s biggest concern is the lack of testing that has been conducted on CBD-based products, noting that only one actual drug, used to treat epilepsy, has been approved by the FDA.

Everything else he said is mostly speculation.

“There’s a wide spectrum of claims, all of them unsubstantiated,” he said.

Nonetheless, he doesn’t believe the claims lack merit. He said a number of pre-clinical studies in animals have shown CBD oil to be helpful for treating inflammation, some types of pain and anxiety.

He said, anecdotally, he’s seen CBD oil products work on people as effectively as some prescription anti-anxiety medication. He is looking for approval to begin a study into the use of CBD oil.

“The problem is we really don’t understand it. We don’t know how it works,” he said.

He said the FDA has already gone after a number of companies for making false or unsubstantiated claims and is keeping a close eye on the industry.

For Whaling, who is an investor in the hemp industry as well as chairman of the National Hemp Association, he said he has a concern about the “money grab” underway in the CBD oil market.

“It is a money maker right now… but there are reputations at stake,” he said. “It’s a little unnerving to me that there’s so much unknown. People don’t know what they’re selling.”

His fear as an investor is that there is such a rush on CBD oil without proven benefit, the hemp industry will get a bad reputation even as it is just getting off the ground.

Worth investing?

People looking to cash in on the CBD oil craze and invest in one of the growing number of CBD oil-producing companies should proceed with caution, said Nelson.

He said some companies will likely succeed, but he cautions that most of the publicly traded companies – the majority of which are being traded on the Canadian stock exchange – are still operating at a deficit.

He said investing in a CBD oil company now would be like investing in a tech startup during the late 1990s dot-com bubble.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there, but there a lot of disasters waiting to happen,” he said.  “Right now you can’t pick which ones those will be.”