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N.J. farmers can grow hemp in 2020, feds say

Hemp grows at North 40 Flower Farm in North Hampton, New York. The N.J. Department of Agriculture’s state plan to grow hemp received approval from the USDA Friday. (Amanda Hoover | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com) Amanda Hoover | NJ Advance Media

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 15, NJ Cannabis Insider hosts a newsmakers networking event in Red Bank, featuring a legislator and business leaders in the hemp and legal cannabis industries. Tickets are limited.

The start of the new year will bring a new cash crop to New Jersey after the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the state’s plan to grow hemp.

As of Friday, the USDA has given three states and three Native American tribes the green light to grow the plant, a mild cousin of marijuana. In addition to New Jersey, Louisiana and Ohio’s proposals received approval.

Grown legally, hemp has only small amounts of the compound THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes a high. The plant can be used to make plastics, clothing, food and legal CBD products. Industry analysts predict hemp production could top $22 billion in coming years.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the federal controlled substances list and mandated the USDA make a plan for its production. The agency did so in October, releasing a long-awaited list of rules for growing hemp domestically.

With the quick approval, New Jersey jumps in front of other states, despite the fact that no hemp has been planted in the Garden State under its own pilot program. Meanwhile, farmers grew some 500,000 acres of hemp nationwide last year.

Now, farmers must apply for licenses to grow hemp under the state’s regulations. According to the state agriculture department’s website, the links for applications to grow and process hemp are expected to be available within the next week.

More than two dozen other states have submitted plans for approval or are in the process of drafting them, and several others continue to operate under pilot programs.

Amanda Hoover can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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N.J. farmers can grow hemp in 2020, feds say Hemp grows at North 40 Flower Farm in North Hampton, New York. The N.J. Department of Agriculture’s state plan to grow hemp received approval from the

Coming soon: ‘Jersey Fresh’ hemp. Anyone with a permit can farm it.

Hemp could soon become as ubiquitous as corn, tomatoes or blueberries in the Garden State. And it may one day earn the right to be labeled “Jersey Fresh.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week approved New Jersey’s plans for hemp production. The state was among the first three to receive the USDA’s official federal endorsement. The agency also gave the OK to proposals submitted by Louisiana and Ohio.

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Hemp is a close cousin of what most of the world knows as marijuana. Both are forms of cannabis. In some cases the two varieties are indistinguishable without testing.

The major difference between the two varieties is this: Hemp by definition must contain less than 0.3 percent of THC, the intoxicating compound that gives marijuana its kick. Some experimental hemp growers have a hard time keeping THC below that limit.

Where marijuana is grown for its psychoactive effects, industrial hemp is cultivated to be used as paper, textiles, building materials, food, oils, and dietary supplements such as CBD.

Nationwide, farmers last year grew more than 500,000 acres of hemp in 34 states. That’s up from 112,000 acres in 2018, according to the hemp advocacy organization Vote Hemp.

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The CBD market alone could be valued at $16 billion by 2025, according to a recent Cowen report. And, analysts predict that hemp could drive a $20 billion industry by 2025.

While about 8,000 acres were licensed in Pennsylvania in 2019 and 4,000 acres cultivated, no hemp was legally grown in the Garden State. With the USDA’s approval, the new crop will need an entirely new supply chain that will include processors, testing labs, and distributors.

“Jersey has some catching up to do with Kentucky, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee,” said Brett Goldman, a former lobbyist who serves as the Philadelphia-based vice president of government and industry for the multi-state hemp grower, GenCanna of Kentucky.

Said Goldman: “Now it’s time for farmers to get farming.”

And under the New Jersey program, everyone’s a farmer.

Anyone in the state who wants to grow hemp will be permitted to do so, said New Jersey’s Secretary of Agriculture, Douglas H. Fisher.

But every aspiring grower will have to go through a formal application process and be approved by the Department of Agriculture before planting seeds.

There will be no limits on the number of permits issued, Fisher said. Hemp will be treated like any other agricultural crop and may someday be eligible for promotion under the state’s Jersey Fresh program, “though we haven’t quite gotten there yet,” Fisher said.

Application forms will be posted next week on the Department of Agriculture website. Once the applications are submitted, the state will move quickly to grant approvals.

“Some states had pilot programs, experimental programs as in Pennsylvania,” Fisher said. “We wanted to go right to letting anyone who wants to grow it do that, and they can grow it anywhere.”

New Jersey’s hemp legislation was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in August.

Growers won’t be limited in the amount they can cultivate, Fisher said, but they will have to register and know the state regulations.

“The only thing they have to do is register their plots, their fields or their indoors facilities,” Fisher said. “We have to know what they are growing and where. But there’s no limit.”

It will be legal to import hemp seeds from other states.

Goldman, of GenCanna, said it is still undetermined which strains and cultivars will do best in New Jersey.

Growers will be eligible to receive help from experts at the state university.

“Rutgers will be very much involved and has real expertise in this realm,” Fisher said. “They’ve been waiting to help growers find the right seed, maximize the yields and find new uses for their crops.”

Growing hemp may turn out to be the easiest part of the equation, as farmers are finding in other states like Oregon. Once harvested, the crop must still be processed into fiber, food or oil.

And currently there are no hemp processing facilities in New Jersey. Although it is legal to ship hemp across state lines, finding processors is a state priority.

“We want aspiring processors to know New Jersey is open for business,” Fisher said. “We want them to locate here in the Garden State.”

The USDA gives approval to hemp farming in the Garden State