Researchers hope to bring industrial hemp back to Lancaster County

RAPHO TWP., Lancaster County -- In 1937, growing hemp was banned across the United States.

A species of cannabis, hemp has miniscule levels of THC, or the chemical that serves recreational purposes in marijuana, which makes it a different plant.

".03 percent is what's allowed in industrial hemp and if it tests above that, you're not allowed to sell the crop and it has to be destroyed," said Alyssa Collins, director of Penn State Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Last year, Pennsylvania began issuing permits allowing for the research of industrial hemp.

Collins said they did trials at the Rock Springs Farm outside of State College.

This year, she said they want to try Lancaster County.

"The conditions where we did our trials last year are not the same environmental conditions we have down here," said Collins.

She said if they receive a permit, they would grow less than an acres of industrial hemp at their research site in Rapho Township.

They hope to try and start growing the crop in May and "find out what works" by fall.

Originally, Collins said hemp was grown as a source of fiber.

Now, she said they're looking to use seeds from industrial hemp to, potentially, use in oils and food products.

"This is going to be a shift in the crop that we really haven't seen in the last one hundred years," said Collins.

Some of the answers she said they hope to find in their Lancaster County trials include best ways to grow hemp, what seeds work best? How can farmers can maximize hemp growth on their land? How much fertilizer would be needed? What potential diseases affect the plant?

She said their goal is to determine if industrial hemp is worth bringing to Lancaster County and if it will bring an economic boost as an alternative crop for farmers already growing grains or vegetables.

"Pennsylvania depends on agriculture so much for it's economy, it only makes sense that we see if this crop is a viable one for our growing system and see if it fits for farmers," said Collins.

Collins also said they, along with other applicants, have not received their growing permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, yet.

A spokesperson with the department says they're reviewing applicants with a stringent process to make sure they have a "common understanding" with applicants.

They say an update on the review process is expected in the next week.