The 2018 Farm Bill redefined the cannabis plant into two varieties, allowing states to create a hemp regulatory program to oversee legal production of the crop. That legislation and Florida’s subsequent passage of a hemp bill opened up a tremendous opportunity for the state’s farmers, according to Holly Bell, the first- ever Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) director of cannabis.
“Farmers in Florida are going to be really good at growing this because they have something the rest of the country doesn’t have,” says Bell, who recognizes a strong demand for CBD products. “That crop is grown on a raised bed with mulch and plastic and a drip water system, very similar to how many fruits and vegetables are grown here in Florida today. The rest of the country doesn’t do that. We already have that method of growing; we’re just switching in a new crop.”
Bell says FDACS Commissioner Nicole Fried had a vision of bringing hemp to Florida farmers as a rotational crop and for diversification, not to mention the potential for new revenue in processing, manufacturing and retail.
“This is an agriculture commodity that was in our lives constantly for thousands of years. And about 70 years ago, it was gradually taken out of our growing cycle and our lives.
So now it’s being reintroduced,” Bell says. “Those opportunities are rare, for a brand-new agriculture commodity to be back as a possibility for a farmer to grow – plus, it’s one that also has demand in the marketplace.”
Educating Farmers and Consumers
Much of Bell’s job so far has been educating both farmers and consumers about the science behind the cannabis plant.
“It will not only help farmers, but it could help people who have health conditions. It could help with some environmental issues we have. The plant is very environmentally friendly. And there are over 25,000 known uses for the plant,” Bell says, citing medical breakthroughs as some of the most exciting possibilities for the product.
FDACS has partnered with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University to host workshops for farmers learning how to grow industrial hemp. Bell says hemp will also be part of the “Fresh From Florida” initiative, identifying products that are grown, processed and manufactured in Florida.