Florida Hemp Farmers Use Lessons of Previous Years to Forge Ahead
by TERESA SCHIFFER
When then-Governor Rick Scott opened the door in 2017 for universities to cultivate hemp for research projects, he introduced a possible new avenue for Florida growers. Now, years later, growers throughout the state are testing the waters to see just how well the crop can thrive here.
This is great news for Florida farmers because our state is well-suited to the production of hemp. In the 2018 farm bill, hemp was removed from the federal Controlled Substances Act, opening the door for legal production of the versatile crop. Florida authorized the cultivation of hemp in 2019, in accordance with federal guidelines. Throughout the state, farmers began planting hemp with various levels of success.
Since this was a new crop for Florida farmers, there were a lot of unknown factors to contend with, and a lot of trial and error to go through. The major challenges hemp growers were affected by in their debut season were primarily unseasonably wet weather and army worms. Currently, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there are 802 approved hemp cultivation permits and 300,000 acres approved for that cultivation. Not every farmer who invested in the first wave of hemp cultivation came out of it with a profit, and many simply cut their losses and walked away.
“Farmers across the Southeast have been interested in hemp,” says Robin Pate, Chief Marketing Officer of Green Point Research. “In 2019, a lot of people grew. They didn’t necessarily have best practices because best practices weren’t established. Some of them lost a lot of money. And so in 2020, there were a lot of farmers who weren’t necessarily interested anymore. They just didn’t want to take the risk. For 2021 and 2022, we do see people continue to have an interest in farming, they’re just taking a little bit more of a cautious approach to it.”
Green Point Research is headquartered in Jasper, located in North Florida. They are vertically integrated to produce and market their hemp products all the way from the seed to the consumer’s hand. Among their various facilities throughout the area dedicated to their process is a nursery in Fort Meade that produces seed starts and clones in order to provide other Florida farmers with the best chance of success growing hemp.
Since COVID-19 has had a major impact on supply chains across industries, the ability to produce, process and market a commodity locally greatly increases the economic viability of a crop. Green Point Research isn’t the only Florida grower taking advantage of vertical integration.
The Treadwell family has been farming in Florida for more than a century, so it is deeply familiar with the climate, growing conditions and other relevant factors when it comes to local agriculture. They have had a successful hemp harvest this year and are excited about the future of hemp production in Florida. Glen Treadwell and his daughter Jammie are thoroughly committed to the success of not just their farm, but all of the family farms and small businesses throughout the state.
Treadwell Farms worked with Sunshine Hemp as soon as legislation was passed clearing the way for hemp cultivation. Sunshine Hemp partnered with Florida A&M University to research and develop hemp strains best suited to Florida’s growing conditions. Their pilot program has been instrumental in producing and distributing the seeds and cultivars for Florida farmers to begin successfully raising hemp.
Jammie Treadwell says of their early hemp production, “We’ve been growing hemp under our own cultivation license since May of 2020, but we also supported the pilot program in the latter part of 2019 and the spring of 2020, before the licenses were in place.” Treadwell Farms grew hemp for Sunshine Hemp as a test crop so that it could be tested and certified for cultivation throughout the state.
Treadwell said they were pleased with this year’s most recent harvest.
“Florida farmers learned a lot last year. It led us to continue streamlining our harvesting and post-harvest activities,” she says.
“Treadwell Farms just completed our eighth harvest since we received our license in May 2020. This equates to 1,500 plants – or 750 pounds of plants. Because of being located in Florida, we can accomplish this four times per year. Our other farm partners took varying approaches to rotating hemp back into their crop schedule, as well. Overall it was a better season weatherwise, and with more experience, we’re really honing in on which genetics work during each particular season. We’re able to tailor our planting schedule and timing to have the right timing for harvest and post-harvest activities.”
One thing that makes growing hemp in Florida particularly lucrative is that we have more grow time available, thanks to our subtropical climate and bountiful sunshine. Hemp matures in just three to four months, so farmers can grow several crops each year, or they can easily rotate a hemp crop in between other plantings of seasonal fruits and vegetables for more diversity.
Another major advantage of growing hemp is found in its effects on soil. Hemp is an incredibly effective biological tool for phytoremediation. This means the plant is excellent at extracting toxic heavy metals from soil, such as selenium, lead, cadmium, and nickel, while still thriving and being practical and safe for industrial usage.
There is currently a relatively high demand for hemp products, especially CBD derivatives, so vertical integration can be a very profitable strategy for hemp growers to utilize. Like Green Point Research, Treadwell Farms also is involved in every stage of hemp production, from the certification of strains with Sunshine Hemp all the way through to marketing their own line of CBD products.
Treadwell describes their operation, “With our cultivation license, we grow multiple varieties of hemp. We grow them for ingestion, inhalation, and for topical use. Our farm is in Eustis, so we purchased a citrus processing plant in Umatilla that we’ve converted to be a hemp processing plant.”
The hemp is hand-harvested at Treadwell Farms and transported to their Umatilla facility for drying and curing. Then they manufacture their CBD products in space that was formerly used for producing orange juice. The Umatilla plant had been an underutilized resource due to citrus greening that caused a decline in orange juice production.
For years, hemp has been touted as a sort of miracle crop by a range of special-interest groups. Now that the cultivation has been legally sanctioned, Florida growers are realizing the many real benefits of this crop.