USDA’s Blessing Sets Florida Hemp Program Into Action
by TIM CRAIG
As the USDA formally approved Florida’s state hemp program, the path to begin cultivating the alternative crop is turning green, particularly for one company who was there at the beginning and now has a sizable footprint in Central Florida.
The USDA approved Florida’s hemp program April 16 and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services began accepting applications to grow industrial hemp April 27.
Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried thanked the USDA for its swift review and credited the months of gathering feedback from the public, growers and other industry stakeholders.
“By working closely with our farmers, processor, retailers and consumers, Florida’s state hemp program will become a model for the nation, set a gold standard for this emerging industry and create billions in economic opportunity for Florida,” she said in a statement. “As our economy deals with the impacts of COVID-19, this approval will give our agriculture industry a new alternative crop for many years to come.”
Fried, who will oversee the hemp program, has consistently championed the emerging industry — from appointing the state’s first-ever cannabis director in 2019 to hosting five workshops and public hearings across the state to develop the approved hemp program.
Fried submitted the 51-page document to the USDA on April 8, outlining how the state’s plan will oversee hemp production that “not only meets congressional requirements but (also) works for Florida farmers.” The plan addresses seven specific areas that the state will oversee: an inventory of land used for the cultivation of hemp, testing procedures, disposal procedures for plants and plant products, enforcement procedures, annual inspections, information sharing, and state certification.
The opening of the applications for licenses to cultivate hemp was the latest step in what has been a four-year journey for David Hasenauer, Jordan Page, Light Townsend and Michael Dukes, who formed Green Point Consultants in Fort Lauderdale in January 2016 to aid in legalizing hemp in Florida. In October 2016, the group formed Green Point Research, which spent the next two years researching all aspects of hemp operations, from seed production, to cultivation and processing. This process culminated in April 2019 when it began a seed production operation in Colorado. But the group kept its eyes on Florida.
“Hemp plants are the way of the future,” Hasenauer says. “Our research has proven hemp to be a viable, sustainable and cost-effective crop for Florida.”
Also that month, the group endowed the University of Florida Industrial Hemp Pilot Project with a donation of cash and genetic materials. “We intend to use our expertise in growing and producing hemp to help our farmers thrive and positively impact the economic development of our communities,” says Hasenauer, who was named to the Florida Hemp Advisory Committee by Commissioner Fried in May 2019.
Green Point Research spent the rest of 2019 securing established farming partners in north, central and south Florida. One of those partnerships turned into the sale of a significant portion of the central Florida operation of Sunshine Growers in Fort Meade. Sunshine Growers President Craig Roth has always been forward-thinking, from conserving resources, to improving plant productivity, to seeing what is just around the corner.
“In Florida, that’s hemp production,” Roth says. “Medical marijuana is here and we’re involved.” Sunshine Growers was involved in two hemp-related moves in 2019. In April, the company sold a 32-acre facility to Surterra Wellness, which changed its name to Parallel in October. The company says its focus is on promoting the benefits of cannabis-based natural medicines.
In October, Green Point Research acquired Sunshine Growers and its 30-acre nursery in Fort Meade. The sale opened the way for Green Point Research to move its seed production from Colorado to Florida.
Roth stayed on with Green Point Research through a lease agreement to continue as operations management. Under the agreement, Sunshine Growers will still be able to grow an array of flowers, vegetables, and other outdoor plants — including its renowned poinsettias — as it has for the past three decades.
“After 33 years in business and nearly 13 years at the current location, we are excited about Green Point Research to expand its agricultural reach by purchasing our turn-key facility to grow hemp starter plants to help farmers pivot to this new industry.”
The facility contains 500,000 square feet of existing greenhouse and shade house. The remainder of the 30-acre property is irrigated with both drip and overhead sprinklers, which will be used for planned facility additions.
Hasenauer says the new facility will serve a vital role in the Florida hemp industry. “We can now provide our proprietary genetics as seedling trays to hemp farmers throughout the state,” he says. “This will significantly reduce their worries about germination or feminization rates.”
The proprietary genetics is just one part of what the company calls “the Green Point Method,” which includes a high-density, perpetual harvest cropping system that allows high quality and quantity yields. Developed through years of trial and error, the Green Point Method was engineered, in part, for the Florida climate and soil varieties. The company has developed a “how-to” guide for growing hemp in Florida, noting that “because hemp was illegal to grow for nearly 80 years, there is a crippling lack of published resources and industry knowledge when it comes to growing industrial hemp, especially for Florida farmers.”