Florida Industrial Hemp Conference to Offer Education, Guidance, Community
by HEATHER MACHOVINA
The industrial hemp industry is forging ahead in the Sunshine State as we approach the Second Annual Florida Industrial Hemp Conference and Exhibition in May. While this is the second attempt at putting on this conference since hemp growing became legal in the state, it’s actually the first time it’s being held, as last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic. The focus of this conference is to bring people from all aspects of the hemp industry in Florida together to further the development of this budding industry.
Conference Director Gene Jones, who also runs the Florida Medical Cannabis Conference and Exhibition, realized the necessity for this hemp conference as soon as the hemp bill was passed in Florida. Hemp is not a magic bullet and a nexus was needed for Florida growers. Getting the industry together to talk about hemp growing, cultivation, harvesting and processing specifically for Florida became imperative as everyone is essentially starting from scratch here in the state.
“It became apparent that in order to foster this industry, we need to bring people together that have expertise in the arena, as well as entrepreneurs and farmers that have an interest in developing business for the state of Florida and to promote that growth,” Jones says.
The conference will provide a networking and educational experience to learn what to do, and probably more importantly, what not to do, with hemp in Florida. Hemp is a new crop, so there definitely will be a learning curve and difficulties along the way, regardless of your position within this growing industry. Currently, there are about 800 Florida farmers licensed to cultivate hemp on about 24,000 acres total throughout the state. Licensed farms range from a couple of acres up to thousands of acres each, but not all of these licensed farms have planted and grown hemp yet. Most of the information we have about hemp growing comes from other states with varying climates to our humid and hot environment, so it’s crucial for Florida hemp farmers to work together for success.
In the past decade, cannabinoids like CBD and CBG found naturally in hemp have been the driving factors of hemp production. The market really started in the west and slowly made its way east, with astonishing amounts of money made in those markets over the years. As the legality of hemp cultivation moved from west to east in our country, the cannabinoid market has become more saturated leading to price drops in the market for those cannabinoid products. In Gene’s opinion, the opportunity for the state of Florida lies in industrial hemp products, not the cannabinoid market.
“Textiles offer the opportunity to grow the hemp crop to manufacture textiles for clothing and materials, and then also the fiber side,” says Jones. “If you look at what hemp can do when used to manufacture fiber for the paper industry, there are some tremendous opportunities to take advantage of down that route.”
The conference will hold informational sessions on the various applications of hemp, including food supplements; nutritional, pharmaceutical and cosmetic uses; construction and manufacturing; and waste processing. There also will be many opportunities to learn about growing, cultivation, harvesting and decortication.
The farming community will want to pay close attention to the regulatory updates at the conference. Holly Bell, Director of Cannabis for Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, will provide a detailed update about what’s going on in Florida, what’s changing legislatively and where we are in regard to licensing and permitting. There will also be a presentation on what’s happening federally. Farmers need to key in on news in cultivation, processing and marketing.
Having a solid understanding of the markets prior to planting your first hemp crop can help offset issues at harvest time. Additionally, knowledge about the business side of hemp and the legal banking aspect can be beneficial. Banks have shut farmers down because they are growing hemp. While there are that will cover hemp farmers, certain top national banks will not currently help due to federal regulation concerns, although it is a legal crop to grow. Getting credit card processing for your hemp business could be another bump in the road. The conference offers many tips and solutions for your financing needs, too.
“The events I put on are network-based events,” explains Jones. “I think the strongest way to learn is through the education of talking with your peers along the way,” he says. People who have an interest in this arena are encouraged to come and get the essential details and network before investing too much money at the start.
“We understand over the last year everybody has struggled making money,” Jones says. “We want to make people have the understanding that we care, we’re in this for the long haul and we want to help the community and the industry across the state. We need farmers out there, we need them to come and learn, and we need them to grow hemp if this industry is going to move forward,” says Jones.