While picking collards Friday morning for a delivery later in the day to a Charleston restaurant chef, Sumter County farmer Nat Bradford discussed a newly signed law that will expand the state's hemp program.
The amended South Carolina Industrial …
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The amended South Carolina Industrial Hemp bill - which became law March 28 - allows for more potential growers this year on unlimited acreage as the state tries to become competitive on the national scale with hemp.
With the new legislation, permitted hemp growers in the Palmetto State will expand from 40 farmers this year to any of the 162 applicants who previously sought a grower permit as long as they pass a background check. Also, a 40-acre cap per farmer has been removed.
Industrial hemp has only become legal to grow in the U.S. in recent years, but Bradford said the state must move fast to keep up with the market and take advantage of opportunities.
By comparison, he said, North Carolina has at least 400 hemp farmers on thousands of acres. Now, South Carolina has the same potential.
"The ball is in the farmers' court," Bradford said. "It's a little late right now to make big changes to your growing operation, but it's a tremendous opportunity."
Historically, hemp was designated as a banned crop by the federal government because the plant is from the same species as marijuana. However, it has a significantly lower concentration of the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). That's the primary chemical responsible for marijuana's psychological effects, creating a euphoric high.
By federal law, hemp must have less than 0.3% concentration of THC compared to marijuana's 30%, and there is bipartisan support to legalize hemp to increase crop diversity and provide new agriculture for U.S. farmers.
Bradford said both Republicans and Democrats are united on the crop. He also noted hemp is a versatile crop and has application to so many products, given its fibers and polymers.
"We've just not even begun to scratch the surface of what it can do," Bradford said. "Farmers are going to ultimately get excited about the crop and a new potential income."
Bradford plans to have 90 acres of industrial hemp now at his family farm in the northern part of the county. A lot of that will be an expansion into growing hemp for Cannabidiol - or CBD - production. CBD has attracted attention for its pharmaceutical effects and is used to treat epilepsy, depression, pain and other ailments. He said he will also have 54 additional acres for CBD on two other farms under the Bradford Family umbrella in two other counties.
He said he will continue to work to perfect the genetics on several plots in using the hemp plant for grain production and having a South Carolina-based seed for industrial hemp. According to research, the hemp plant can be used for grain production as a food oil for culinary use.
Bradford said he lobbied for several other hemp farmers to grow grain, without success. Of the original 40 permitted farmers in the state's program, he said he was the only one headed in the agricultural grain production route instead of CBD.
CBD is the "gold rush" and "big shiny coin" right now with industrial hemp, Bradford said, and he reasoned it just didn't make sense not to get into it at this time.
"It's a 'if you can't beat them, join them' sort of thing," he said.
But, being a traditional "seedsman" farmer at heart for small sales, his intention is to go into CBD to be a capital stream to fund his genetics project with grain.
"I am going to start to work with other folks on the genetics side with it," Bradford said, "to gear up for when CBD levels out with demand, we'll have our grain genetics ready to go."
Bradford said he makes a living off direct sales of his non-commercialized, old-heirloom varieties of watermelons, collards and okra, but if hemp can increase his bottom line, then that's great.
"That is a nice thing about it," Bradford said, "but that's not what gets me up at morning. I get out here because that's an old passion from childhood to work with plants and having my hands in the dirt and growing different crops. That's why I do it."
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