Hemp isn’t exactly a major cash crop for Tennessee farmers right now, but Clint Palmer is working to change that.
Palmer, a graduate research assistant in the molecular bioscience department at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, began growing and researching industrial hemp in 2015 after Tennessee legislators passed a bill allowing farmers to grow the crop in the state.
His research continues, and he is now focused on identifying ways in which farmers can ensure a successful and profitable hemp harvest, as well as determining how hemp can best be used.
“There’s so much to be studied regarding hemp and its potential in Tennessee,” Palmer says. “It’s practically limitless.”
Palmer currently cultivates legalized industrial hemp, defined as any cannabis plant variety that contains less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, the compound that produces intoxicating effects when ingested. The hemp is grown in hoop houses, greenhouses and a half-acre research plot at MTSU, and on approximately 30 acres at a farm in Murfreesboro.
His research began in the summer of 2015 when he conducted a trial growing seven varieties of hemp, with six of them for seed and one for fiber. Palmer has experimented with how much water and supplemental lighting is required for the crops to thrive in various conditions and how much seed should be planted per acre, as well as how to best treat the soil to ensure successful growth.
“With any new crop, there’s a learning curve, and we’re trying to catch up with other countries that have been doing this [growing hemp] for a long time,” Palmer says. “I’ve found that farmers don’t have access to helpful information that explains how to grow hemp in our state, and I want to help them. After all, this industry can never reach its potential in Tennessee if no one is successfully growing hemp.”
Palmer is still determining the best conditions and treatments for optimal hemp growth, but he believes the crop will flourish and expand its presence in Tennessee soon.
“There are so many opportunities in the hemp industry for farmers, agricultural engineers and fabricators, and scientists, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Palmer says. “It’s hard to even imagine how big the industry could become in Tennessee in the next five years.”
Prioritizing Hemp Education
In addition to conducting research, Palmer is devoted to teaching others about the many uses and benefits of hemp.
With the support of the Tennessee Hemp Industries Association (TNHIA), Palmer and Paige Thompson, the TNHIA’s vice president of administration, created Tennessee’s first hemp maze in 2016 in Chapel Hill.
Open to the public on four weekends during August and September, the maze covered about an acre and drew approximately 400 people who had the opportunity to learn the difference between marijuana and hemp as well as how they could use hemp in their daily lives.
“The hemp maze was a great opportunity to explain to people what hemp is – and that it’s legal to grow in Tennessee,” Palmer says. “Throughout the maze, we had lots of information for people to read so they could learn what’s in hemp seeds along with some hemp-related facts, like that hemp produces the world’s second-strongest natural fiber.”
The maze no longer exists, but Palmer continues to share his hemp knowledge with farmers, government leaders and the general public – after all, he truly believes in its potential.
“Hemp could create an incredible number of jobs for Tennesseans, and help a lot of people,” Palmer says. “This plant has the potential to be used in so many ways.”