Applications to grow hemp this year in the Keystone State have “swamped” the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Harrisburg regulators received “upwards of 300 applications” to grow industrial hemp, with the epicenter of would-be hemp farmers concentrated in Lancaster County, said Shannon Powers, spokeswoman for the Dept. of Agriculture. The state has received at least 80 applications from the Lancaster area.

“We have a couple of people managing the permitting program,” Powers said, “and they’re in a frenzied mode of finalizing the permits so farmers can get their seed in the ground.”

More than 80 applications have already been approved, she said.

In this Aug. 16, 2017 file photo, a farmer harvests hemp at Murray State University's West Farm in Murray Kentucky. (Ryan Hermens/The Paducah Sun via AP)
Ryan Hermens / AP
In this Aug. 16, 2017 file photo, a farmer harvests hemp at Murray State University's West Farm in Murray Kentucky. (Ryan Hermens/The Paducah Sun via AP)

This is the first year in decades that a commercial industrial hemp crop has been allowed to be planted in the state. “There’s tremendous interest from all quarters," Powers said. Growers expect to sell their harvest to CBD producers, for use as a building materials, textiles and scores of other uses.

Growing hemp was legalized in December when the president signed the Farm Bill. The application window to produce the crop in Pennsylvania closed on April 30.

Anyone wanting to cultivate the crop must have first passed a criminal background check. In addition, the state requires that hemp must not be sown within three miles of any legal medical marijuana facility. That’s because hemp and marijuana both belong to the cannabis species, Powers said, and cross pollination could ruin a medical marijuana crop.

Hemp is the non-intoxicating variety of cannabis and is defined by its having less than 0.3 percent of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

University of Connecticut grad student Peter Apicella works with a cannabis plant in a UConn greenhouse growing THC-free hemp. UConn began teaching a marijuana horticulture class this semester. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/TNS)
TNS
University of Connecticut grad student Peter Apicella works with a cannabis plant in a UConn greenhouse growing THC-free hemp. UConn began teaching a marijuana horticulture class this semester. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/TNS)