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Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in North Carolina

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of plant is industrial hemp?

Industrial hemp is a small seeded, dicot, dioecious, photoperiodic plant. This means that it is a broadleaf and not a grass. There are male and female plants. The plants flower based on a day length trigger.

These plant characteristics will present production and cultivation challenges for North Carolina. The small seed is very sensitive to planting depth, and establishing an acceptable stand will require close attention to a shallow planting depth, firm seedbed and avoiding flooding conditions. The seedling is also small and not very competitive with weeds until the crop is established and canopy closure occurs. There are no labeled pesticides for use on industrial hemp at this time. 

Most, but not all, available cultivars are dioecious, which means that there are male and female plants. The male plants will die soon after pollen is released, and seed is only produced on female plants. 

The photoperiodic nature of the plant will require management of planting date to ensure that plants do not flower too soon after emergence. Places across the globe where industrial hemp has been cultivated and variety improvement has occurred over the last several decades are at generally higher latitudes than North Carolina. So, we cannot expect many current cultivars to be perfectly adapted to North Carolina.

How is industrial hemp cultivated?

Industrial hemp is generally grown for; seed, fiber, or floral materials. Each is produced is in a slightly different way. For seed production, plants would generally be seeded at a high plant population similar to a small grain crop. Reported seeding rates are 25 to 40 pounds of seed per acre planted with a grain drill. For fiber, high seeding rates are generally recommended. The reason for high seeding rates and plant population is to limit lateral branching and facilitate harvest. Production of floral materials varies widely from greenhouse production to wider row spacings, which would resemble tobacco or horticultural crop production. Floral buds are harvested, so production systems that promote lateral branching and more numerous flowers per plant would be desirable.

Harvesting methods vary. Industrial hemp for seed can be harvested by a combine, but care must be taken to avoid wrapping of plant stems on combine parts as well as shattering of seed to the ground. Grain (seed) is typically harvested at high moisture levels (~15%) to prevent wrapping and shattering, and then the grain should be dried quickly to 7-10% moisture to prevent spoilage. For fiber, the entire plant is cut close to the ground and a retting process must occur. Retting allows the fiber to be separated from the inner core, or hurd, of the stalk. For floral material, the floral buds are harvested.

How much does it cost to produce industrial hemp?

Research with industrial hemp has been very limited in the United States. There are few reliable sources of information at this time. For now, interested growers may wish to refer to information from the University of Kentucky, which can be found online at Industrial hemp can be cultivated in North Carolina only under a research pilot program, so we can expect North Carolina-specific information to be available once the program is established.

What are the market opportunities for industrial hemp?

Similar to the limited research for production, little information exists at this time for the market opportunities to potential North Carolina growers. Growers are urged to proceed with caution and closely examine potential market opportunities. 

What is hemp used for?

Hemp fibers have been used to manufacture hundreds of products that include fiber for injected/molded composite materials, twine, paper, construction materials, carpeting, clothing, and animal bedding.

Seeds have been used in making industrial oils, cosmetics and other personal care products, and medicines.

Hemp seed or oil can be found in cooking oil, salad dressings, pasta, and snack products. This crop has also generated great interest among pharmaceutical and medical researchers. (Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service)

How do I obtain seed of industrial hemp for planting?

Industrial hemp seed is considered a Schedule 1 narcotic substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Therefore, an import license must be obtained to import seed into the United States and North Carolina. To the extent possible, the Plant Industry Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as an import licensee, will help facilitate the importation process. Identifying a seed source and all the associated costs of obtaining it is the responsibility of the grower.

How can I participate in the pilot program?

Under state and federal laws, individuals must be issued a license to participate in the industrial hemp pilot program. Growers in North Carolina who wish to cultivate industrial hemp shall submit an application for a license to the Industrial Hemp Commission, which must be approved by commission members. The Industrial Hemp Commission is responsible for developing rules and applications for participating in the program. As adopted in February of 2017, Temporary Rules spell out the requirements of the industrial hemp research pilot program. An application to become a licensee is available online as well as application instructions and an application FAQ page.

Can I grow hemp in my backyard?

No. Under state and federal laws, industrial hemp growers must be issued a license to participate in the industrial hemp pilot program.  The Industrial Hemp Commission is responsible for developing rules and regulations for participating in the program.

Does the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services support hemp production?

Yes, NCDA&CS does support the legal production of industrial hemp as a part of the newly created pilot program. It will be interesting to see what information can be gleaned from the research pilot given the history of this crop in our state. Once the research data is reported to the N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission, we will begin to see the degree of feasibility and marketability of the crop.

What is the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana?

Marijuana and industrial hemp are different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L. Marijuana typically contains 3 to 15 percent THC on a dry-weight basis, while industrial hemp contains less than 1 percent (Blade, 1998; Vantreese, 1998). Most developed countries that permit hemp cultivation require use of varieties with less than 0.3 percent THC. However, the two varieties are indistinguishable by appearance. DeMeijer et al. (1992), in a study of 97 Cannabis strains, concluded that short of chemical analysis of the THC content, there was no way to distinguish between marijuana and hemp varieties.

Industrial hemp can be grown as a fiber and/or seed crop. Grown for fiber, it is planted in dense stands to maximize stalk production. Grown for seed or for seed and fiber, plants are spaced farther apart to encourage branching and seed production. Marijuana varieties are grown for their leaves and flower buds, and therefore are grown under low-density conditions to maximize branching. Thus, planting density and other production characteristics do not offer a reliable way to distinguish varieties for law enforcement purposes. (USDA report)

How can I keep informed of when the Industrial Hemp Commission will meet next? What if I miss a meeting? Can I get the information I missed from a meeting?

There is a Meeting Update page that lists the next announced Industrial Hemp Commission meeting. Additionally, you can find meeting agendas and approved minutes from previous meetings. You can also sign up for the mailing list on the Industrial Hemp Home page to get meeting information emailed as it becomes available.



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