Florida might be known for its oranges, but the Sunshine State is now positioning itself to be a national leader in another industry as well - agricultural hemp.
The Senate has already put this plan in motion, unanimously passing a bill to create an agricultural hemp program. The aim of this scheme is to help farmers who have been battered by hurricanes and hurt by citrus diseases, says Post Register.
“Today is an exciting, historic and bipartisan day for our agriculture community,” the publication quoted Republican Sen. Rob Bradley as saying.
“There has been a lot of struggles in our agriculture community over the last several years, from citrus greening to the hurricanes, and they’ve had a devastating effect on many of our farmers. This is a lifeline. This is an emerging agricultural crop that can make all the difference.”
While hemp is related to marijuana, it only has trace amounts of THC, the chemical that makes people high.
In fact, the plant has a wide range of uses, from ropes and clothing to building materials and animal feed.
According to Post Register, Bradley believes this legislation opened up a window for states to act.
"Florida is going to be a pioneer, one of the first states to act in this emerging space,” the publication reported him saying.
Supplementing citrus crops with hemp to make up losses
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried comments that citrus will remain the state’s top crop, but growers will now be able to supplement their groves with hemp.
This will be especially advantageous to farmers whose citrus crops have suffered.
Two diseases have plagued growers: citrus canker and citrus greening, says Post Register.
Canker causes blemishes on the fruit and greening kills the trees. Combined they’ve cost citrus growers billions of dollars in losses.
“We are known for citrus, so we’re definitely going to continue encouraging our citrus industry,” the publication quotes Fried as saying.
“If they need to utilize some of their property for hemp production, this gives them another option as we’re figuring out and finding a solution to citrus greening.”
Fried points out that Florida has the capacity to grow hemp year-round. What's more, she says its large number of ports position the state to lead in production and exportation.
“We have the right environment, we have the right conditions and we’ve got the right members of the agriculture community, who are some of the most strong-willed” people in the state, Post Register quoted her as saying.
“They’re going to utilize this to be prosperous.”