Oklahoma’s industrial hemp pilot program off to a strong start

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OKLAHOMA CITY – While many farmers are waiting to see what the farm bill holds in store for the future of hemp farming, state officials say the industrial hemp pilot program has been extremely successful.

In May, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry began accepting applications for the industrial hemp program.

“We know Oklahoma has to diversify our economy. We need new and recurring revenue and this does both,” State Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, told News 4 in November of 2017. “Oklahoma is prime real estate for the production of industrial hemp. Our farmers can grow it, they can do well. Our citizens can buy new products that can be made from this, it can be taxed.”

House Bill 2913, which creates the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp Agricultural Pilot Program,  allows universities and colleges in the state to grow the crop for research.

“It’s a cash crop. Unfortunately, throughout time, it’s become synonymous with marijuana,” he said.

While Oklahomans might not be that familiar with hemp, officials say it can be used in agriculture, textiles and food.

Initially, independent producers couldn’t apply directly for a license but had to work with a university or college.

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After the passage of the farm bill, industry leaders say there are more opportunities for hemp farmers. The farm bill removed industrial hemp from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, authorized crop insurance for industrial hemp and allows for hemp clones and seedlings to cross state lines.

However, there are still procedures each state must follow.

“The new farm bill is very exciting for Oklahoma farmers,” said Tina Walker, president of Botanac. “But the legislation doesn’t mean instant change. State officials now have to develop and present a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval before any changes go into effect.”

Oklahoma's current Industrial Hemp Pilot Program will likely remain in effect until the state receives approval of a new plan in 2019.

At this point, there are eight colleges and universities participating in the hemp program; Langston University, Redlands Community College, Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Murray State College, Connors State College and Western Oklahoma State College.

Last year, there were 28 licensed growers, 445 acres planted and 80,000 square feet of indoor growing space, according to the Consumer Protection Services of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

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