Hemp Acreage Expected to Soar as Florida Gains Experience With Crop
by HEATHER MACHOVINA
The hemp industry in Florida launched during 2020, with Florida farmers receiving their first hemp cultivation permits from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in April. According to the Hemp Advisory Committee, the state issued 611 cultivation licenses and licensed 2,100 for planting in 2020. The CBD health trend is hot right now, so most growers are interested in growing hemp for resinous buds that can be processed after harvest to extract CBD, which can then be used in hemp products. Oils, lotions, edible capsules and gummies, creams, sprays, and vaporizers are all popular CBD products coming to the market today. There is a lot of growth to be had in the coming years as the hemp industry is just beginning in the Sunshine State, like hemp food and drink products, hemp industrial goods, and the production of biodiesel from hemp.
The U.S. is a top five importer and exporter of hemp worldwide, and Florida is jumping in headfirst to contribute to this growing industry. Ag Commissioners Nikki Fried recently discussed hemp in Florida and her expectations for the future. She reported that there were just more than 22,000 acres of Florida hemp grown in 2020, approaching the same amount of land used to grow some of the state’s major vegetable crops like tomatoes and watermelon. To put that number in better perspective, Florida is the second-largest strawberry producer in the U.S., only behind California, with just over 10,000 acres used to grow that produce. The inaugural year of hemp boasted double the strawberry acreage in Florida. Commissioner Fried expects this number to jump up to 35,000 acres of hemp by April 2021, just one year after hemp is legally permitted to be cultivated in Florida.
Growers throughout the state were confronted with many battles during their first grow, making it an educational season for most. The hot and humid climate is prime for fungal diseases during growing and drying times, with the rainy season bringing about root rot problems. Varying daylight cycles in the south resulted in some plants flowering too early in the season when they should have been in a vegetative state. The Florida growing environment is distinct, and varies through the North, Central, and South regions. Florida growers are limited in what cultivars they are allowed to grow, as it must be from a certifying agency, like AOSCA (Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies), or through a state university hemp pilot program. Breeding new hemp varieties that are well acclimated to the Florida climates will be a positive aid in building their hemp industry.
Hemp grown in Florida is also subject to federal THC limits, stating anything over 0.3 percent THC is required to be destroyed. According to the Hemp Advisory Committee, it is estimated that 14 percent of hemp acreage in Florida had to be destroyed in 2020 for various reasons including genetic performance and THC levels above the legal limit. Having a strong testing program becomes crucial in the weeks leading up to harvest to ensure your crop is at proper THC levels.
While the first year was trying for most new Florida hemp growers, the hemp industry has great potential to flourish in the coming years. Fried recently spoke with members of the Enterprise Board of Directors and estimated the current hemp acreage in Florida could contribute $270 million in economic impact, with $136 million in revenue, and could support more than 8,000 jobs in the state. She is projecting the hemp acreage will grow heavily over the next three to five years, up to 300,000 acres across Florida. That would be about half of the acres the Florida citrus industry uses, currently about 700,000 acres.
The agricultural industry continues to be one of Florida’s biggest economic motivators. Fried stated that tourism was down 34 percent in 2020 and we are potentially staring at a $5 billion impact from the coronavirus pandemic. The push to build the hemp industry into commercial growing and expand into the industrialization of hemp will be huge for Florida. Right now, the CBD market is hot, and hemp is new to the state, so there are no industrial hemp processing facilities where hemp stalks could be made into fabrics and other products.
State Rep. Ramon Alexander is working to bring the industrialization of hemp to the North Florida region. This year, he hopes to lay the groundwork to help generate processing facilities where hemp stalks can be manufactured into more products like fibers for clothing. By bridging the gap between farmers and federal resources available through universities, a more equal distribution of resources could help kickstart hemp fiber extraction and manufacturing opportunities and provide more jobs in rural areas. Furthermore, no Florida farmers are growing hemp for fiber only. Most hemp is grown for flower, but a flowerless stalk is all that is needed for hemp fiber extraction. This creates a shorter growing season and additional opportunities for farmers across the state.
Based on 2020 data from state agriculture departments collected by Hemp Industry Daily, Florida is ranked ninth in the top 10 states with the largest hemp acreage. Projections look promising for the future of hemp in the Sunshine State, no doubt leading to a climb in rankings and acreage over the next five years.