Want to grow hemp in NY? You can, but you'll need more than water & sunshine

New York is now open for hemp growers. At least, it’s open to 10 hemp growers.

The state has created 10 licenses that allow universities to grow, or oversee the growth of, hemp. So far, just two schools – Morrisville State College and Cornell University – have gained permission.

That leaves eight more licenses available for schools, and the private farmers who agree partner with them. A free workshop next week in Albany will offer details about growing the plant, cultivation requires special permission, security and oversight.

Make no mistake: Growing hemp is serious business. Hemp and marijuana are varieties of the same plant, just as you might grow two different types of blueberries, says Don Viands, an associate dean who studies plant breeding and genetics at Cornell.

The major difference, of course, is that marijuana can get you high and hemp – bred to contain only trace amounts of THC – cannot. But hemp growers must ensure the level of tetrahydrocannabinol in their plants does not rise about .3 percent, Viands said. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Marijuana and hemp plants can cross-pollinate, Viands said, another reason for taking sure care with a hemp crop.

That’s why getting one of these 10 licenses is only a first step toward growing hemp. The universities and farmers also must get permission from government agencies and ensure the crop is grown under lock and key. Seeds come from Canada, and that require extra precautions and paperwork before shipping. Just getting a crop into the ground can take months. And the state licenses last only three years.

Harvesting HempThis Sept. 25, 2016 photo, shows seeds from the first legal crop of industrial hemp grown on JD Farms in Eaton, N.Y. JD Farms in central New York harvested the state’s first legal hemp this fall under a university research partnership. (AP Photo/Mary Esch) 

So far, just only JD Farms and Morrisville have grown a hemp crop in New York. Cornell plans to grow three varieties next year to study which ones thrive and produce the best yields.

And no one, yet, can just take the hemp to market to sell. For now, the process is about experimenting, to see what crops grow best in Upstate and which seeds produce the best yield.

“This is for people who want to start a business or who want to experiment,” said Susie Cody, of the New York chapter of the Hemp Industries Association, which is offering the Oct. 22 workshop.

But the potential for money-making is there, supporters say. New York wants to become a part of a $600 million industry that produces building materials, paper, clothes and plastic.

In recent weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed another bill that will allow for the sale, distribution, processing and transportation of industrial hemp, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture & Markets. The rules governing the new law will be out in a few weeks.

Until then, growers interested in sowing hemp seeds can see some benefits, even if they are not monetary, Cody said. Hemp has long roots, which draws nutrients from deep in the earth to the surface, she said. It also makes a good rotation crop for fields, she added. And it doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers to thrive.

The meeting about growing industrial hemp is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. No pre-registration is required. There will be a $10 fee to cover the costs of the meeting.

24 apples, all grown in Upstate NY

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