Source: Reading Eagle

The state Department of Agriculture announced an industrial hemp research program Thursday that is already drawing criticism from advocates.

Four months after enacting a hemp law, the state released the application and guidelines to conduct pilot research projects that will help to determine opportunities for the growth, cultivation and marketing of hemp.Under the guidelines, a maximum of 30 projects will be selected for the 2017 growing season. For now, the department will only approve products or uses that would use hemp fiber or seed for industrial purposes.

A hemp advocate was outraged and said that the program did not go far enough in cultivating a hemp industry.”This is not what we expected this program to be,” said Erica McBride, a leader of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council.The program does not address potential hemp uses such as animal feed or general commerce, McBride said. She is also administrative director of AgriNextusa, a company formed by Maidencreek Township businessman Geoff Whaling to grow hemp and develop products.”This program is absolutely worthless,” she said. “It does not help farmers. It is not going to help the industry.”Before issuing research permits, the department will require a $3,000 fee to cover administrative costs and project review.McBride said the $3,000 fee is also high in light of a 5-acre limit of acreage allowed for research. The research program also does not allow for production of hemp oil used for medical purposes such as seizures, something that AgriNextusa wants to do.”They’ve taken a well-intentioned piece of legislation and made it impotent,” McBride said. “There will be no hemp industry under this program.”State Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat and hemp law advocate, also took issue with the program as announced.”I was surprised too, and, frankly, disappointed,” Schwank said. “It was far more cautious than I anticipated.”Schwank said she also worries that the fee could be a barrier to farmers and higher education institutions getting involved in the industry.”Since we started a lot further behind the other states, I was hoping our program was going to be a lot more aggressive,” Schwank said. “Certainly, I’m going to be following up. I want to understand how we came to this place and what can be done to change it.”

‘A first step’

Bonnie J. McCann, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said the program is only beginning.

“We see this program as a promising opportunity for Pennsylvania, but for us to get it right and to be successful in the long-run, we have to learn to walk before we can run,” McCann said via email. “We have appreciated the work of the Hemp Council and other advocates who fought hard to pass this law, and we hope they recognize that the program unveiled today is only a first step. It outlines a program that we feel is manageable for a first-of-its-kind effort, and as we have said all along, we are fully committed to evaluating it and revising it if appropriate in future years.”McCann added: “Failing to get this program right in its first year is what could truly jeopardize industrial hemp’s future in Pennsylvania as a commercially viable crop – if future laws allow for commercial production.”

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