An Update from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Program
By Sarah Pickel, Hemp Program Coordinator, Bureau of Plant Industry
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) has been working for more than seven years to provide Pennsylvania’s farmers the ability, connections, and knowledge they need to grow hemp, a crop with significant economic potential and seemingly endless uses in the marketplace. The 2023 growing season was the seventh year that hemp was grown again in Pennsylvania in more than 80 years, during which hemp was illegal to grow in the United States. In these last seven years, we’ve seen some highs and lows as the new industry becomes established and processing capacity grows.
The 2014 federal Farm Bill allowed the growth of hemp for research and the PA General Assembly passed the Industrial Hemp Research Act, signed by Governor Wolf in 2016. Pennsylvania’s hemp industry then saw a modest start in 2017, with the state issuing 16 research permits resulting in a total of 36 acres of hemp. In another two years, the hemp acreage level had increased to a high of 4,195 acres grown by 324 commercial permit holders in 2019. This followed the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which finally allowed hemp to be grown for commercial production. The majority of this acreage was CBD varieties.
After 2019 saw a surplus of harvested hemp grown for CBD not just in Pennsylvania, but across the country, hemp growing saw a downturn for several years. Pennsylvania growers planted 1,000 acres in 2020, followed by 420 acres in 2021, and 156 acres in 2022, as the processing side of the industry worked to catch up to the hemp-growing potential. In 2023, we have seen an upturn in hemp acreage grown to 290 acres under 215 permits. This increase in acreage could in part be due to an increase in the percentage of hemp grown for fiber in Pennsylvania. This season, 21.5% of the hemp acreage in Pennsylvania was fiber varieties, an increase from 12% in 2022.
With an increased interest in growing and processing fiber varieties of hemp, as evidenced by the establishment of the PA Industrial Hemp Engine research effort, the PA Department of Agriculture is looking to reduce some of the sampling burden for fiber and grain hemp varieties. New for the 2024 hemp growing season, Pennsylvania’s Hemp Program has added parameters for performance-based sampling for fiber and grain varieties, as is allowed by USDA and which will be available for renewing hemp-growing permittees. If requirements are met, performance-based sampling will allow growers to avoid compliance testing on lots of qualifying fiber or grain varieties. (Although PDA will conduct random audit testing on a percentage of approved lots.) Permittees will be eligible for performance-based sampling if: 1) they have grown compliant hemp varieties for two consecutive seasons, 2) they have completed PDA compliance sampling requirements, 3) they are not currently under a corrective action plan, and 4) they are growing a fiber or grain variety that has been certified by a seed-certifying agency or is included in PDA’s listing of low-risk hemp varieties. Those interested in viewing the complete requirements and the low-risk hemp variety listing can view the PDA guidance document on performance based sampling of fiber and grain varieties on the Growing & Processing subpage at agriculture.pa.gov/hemp.
Also new for 2024, instead of having an April 1 deadline for growing permit applications and renewals, applications will now be accepted year-round. The application and renewal period for 2024 permits opened in October 2023 and will be excepted until the next year’s application and renewal period opens in October 2024. All permits will still expire on December 31 of the permit year and will need to be renewed each year. For full details on the permit application or renewal process, please visit agriculture.pa.gov/hemp and see, “How to Apply for a PA Hemp Permit”.