Local legislators support farmers who want to grow hemp

  • Seeds of Solidarity co-owner Ricky Baruc processes garlic. This spring, he and Deb Habib plan to grow hemp on land with a Mount Grace conservation restriction on it. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • A North Carolina couple stands with their hemp crop. The federal legalization of hemp is included in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.  ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2019 3:37:41 PM

Local legislators are pushing to allow area farmers to grow hemp on land with agricultural preservation restrictions, which for years has been banned because it is related to marijuana.

Legislators hope to get the change in this year’s spending bills so hemp can be grown on farmland whether or not it is preserved under the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program.

“The APR program helps maintain farming as a thriving economic sector in Massachusetts,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who co-sponsored the Senate budget bill that contains the hemp language – which is the same as the governor has placed in his supplemental budget. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the Farm Bureau, and other legislators also support the measure.

Hinds said the budget includes language concerning hemp, which is used to make a variety of commercial and industrial products, including rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation and biofuel.

“Our farmers are incredibly successful when they diversify their crops,” state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said. “This bill includes language to allow local farmers to grow hemp.”

Blais said it is important that both the Senate and House pass the bill so that the governor can sign it soon, allowing farmers to begin growing this coming season. She said the House had removed the language about hemp, but she hopes it gets restored.

Ricky Baruc, who co-owns Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange with Deb Habib, said they will begin growing hemp this spring on land they own under a conservation restriction. He said he thinks it’s a good idea to allow farmers to grow hemp.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Baruc said. “I’m all about growing really good crops and in this case, it makes no sense not to allow this.”

Philip Korman, executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in South Deerfield, said it is important for farmers in Franklin County and beyond to compete in the global market, and this is one way to do so. He said farmers should have as many options as possible.

“There’s a niche market here. People are looking for a trusted product. Our farmers’ values match the communities’ values,” he said.

Korman said CISA always encourages people to buy locally, so hemp would simply be another product they could buy.

State law defines land in horticultural use as primarily and directly used to raise fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts and other foods for human consumption, feed for animals, tobacco, flower, sod, trees, nursery or greenhouse products, as well as ornamental plants and shrubs for sale. The bill, which has been referred to the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy for review and consideration, adds hemp to the list of approved uses. Hemp is the fiber of the cannabis plant. It is extracted from the stem to make different products. It is the non-psychoactive variety of cannabis sativa.

The federal Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 recognized hemp as separate from marijuana and removed it from the federal Controlled Substances Act. This provided leeway for Massachusetts farmers to prepare to cultivate hemp on land not under the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, which pays farmers to relinquish development rights of their land.

Hinds said the last hurdle for farmers with land under the APR program is adding hemp to the state law defining approved uses on such protected land.

Blais said she is pushing for the hemp language to be restored when the House debates the bill.

“By getting this language to the governor’s desk now, quickly, as a section in a supplemental budget, we are ensuring farmers can begin to prepare for their next growing season and take steps to incorporate this new crop,” Hinds said.

Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops and has been used for paper, textiles and cordage for thousands of years. Marijuana and hemp come from the same cannabis species but are genetically distinct in their chemical makeup and cultivation methods.

Hemp can be grown as a renewable source for raw materials that can be used in many different products. Its seeds and flowers are used in health foods, organic body care and other nutraceuticals.

Last year, the Hemp Industries Association estimated the total retail value of all hemp products sold in the U.S. at $620 million. For farmers, hemp is an attractive rotation crop. It breathes in carbon dioxide, detoxifies soil and provides it with nutrients and it prevents soil erosion. Hemp requires little water and no pesticides, so it is environmentally friendly, its proponents say.

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