Once again, hemp is being introduced in Pennsylvania as form this year, as farmers reinstate a once dominant cash crop.
Don’t misunderstand, this is not about marijuana, but about industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana. In earlier days, hemp was used in many industrial applications, from paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, to even animal feed. You will find this hard to believe, but hemp was used as far back as 10,000 years ago.
However, Pennsylvania growers were not expecting the plant to bring its own set of problems with it. Hemp grows so fast, that it brings its own ‘weeds’ with it.
Russell Redding, the state secretary of agriculture commented: "We had some projects that really did everything right, but were completely overrun by weeds. You'd have fields that were beautifully green, but overwhelmed by unwanted species."
Mr Redding aims to visit all 14 hemp plots the state of Pennsylvania has permitted. He does expect them to run into the same problem all over.
"It's a new old crop, a native crop, but we have a complete void of experience that we desperately need. That's what this three-year project is about. We're working hard to build the groundwork."
There was a funny side note to be made during the process. The seeds, which had to be imported from Canada, were held up at customs by the Drug Enforcement Administration for weeks on end, which meant that the whole planning had to be pushed back.
Cultivating the hemp however, is far easier than growing it. The Pennsylvania project manager, Mrs McBride stated that: "It'll be like mowing a lawn. It'll take less than an hour. You want marijuana to be short and bushier to produce more flower, hemp is one major stalk that you want to have only one main cola, the flower that produces the seed."
The state hopes that as from next year they can allow growers to plant even more than five acres per household.
"If we can do that, we can commercialize hemp and it won't have to stay a research project," State Secretary Redding said. "But it's going to literally take an act of Congress."