Throughout history, the hemp plant has been recognized as a sustainable, renewable source of raw material with a host of industrial and consumer applications. Currently, hemp is underutilized as a raw material due to decades of laws and policies prohibiting, or severely limiting, its industrial use. As these laws and policies change, the use of hemp as an industrial raw material will continue to increase due to interest in sustainable, high-value consumer and industrial products made from domestic renewable resources.
In Pennsylvania, the expanding interest in hemp is evident from the number of permits the Commonwealth has issued over the past few years. The number of growing permits has increased from 16 in 2017 to 324 in 2019. This year, 510 growing permits were issued and, for the first time, 68 processing permits were also issued. More than 100 of the growing permits were specifically granted for growing fiber varietals. Clearly there is strong interest in expanding and diversifying the hemp industry in Pennsylvania. The challenge is to support this expanding agricultural and manufacturing industry by developing:
a basic material science understanding of the hemp plant as an industrial raw material.
engineering processes to transform hemp biomass into new material forms with unique mechanical and physical properties.
new high-value products with well-defined markets that utilize hemp-derived materials.
business models and supply chain simulations for hemp-derived product businesses.
a systems-level understanding of the sustainability of the hemp industry (technically, environmentally, economically and socially).
the infrastructure necessary to support an expanding, sustainable hemp industry.
Academic institutions, government agencies and the hemp industry must work together to develop an integrated system of new materials, processes, products and business models necessary to grow and sustain a robust hemp industry. In addition, the education, training and workforce development infrastructure necessary to grow the human capital needed to support the hemp industry must be incorporated into the integrated system.
To facilitate these collaborations, I am currently chairing the PA Hemp Steering Committee, a group of more than 80 stakeholders from industry, academia and government. The mission of the Steering Committee is to advance the hemp industry in Pennsylvania and provide counsel and guidance to the PA Department of Agriculture (PDA) on this important emerging opportunity for the Commonwealth. The Steering Committee is managed by a Leadership Team made up of two co-chairs from each of four subcommittees, namely:
Farmer & Processor Education & Outreach Subcommittee
Supply Chain & Market Development Subcommittee
Research Opportunities & Needs Subcommittee
Policy & Regulation Subcommittee
The Leadership Team also has representation from the PDA to facilitate communication between the PDA and the Steering Committee.
Recently, the Steering Committee responded to the USDA Interim Final Report (IFR) during the open comment period to advocate for changing policies and procedures around issues such as:
full-plant composite sampling and testing protocols.
national processing permits to better establish chain-of-custody.
measurement of uncertainty and negligence levels in testing.
the time window between sampling and harvest.
policies for removing materials from a farm (for drying, processing, disposal, etc.).
The Steering Committee is also advising the PDA as they develop their 2021 permitting policies and procedures. If anyone wants to participate in or provide feedback to the Steering Committee, please contact me directly and I will make sure you are added to our distribution list and your concerns are directed to the appropriate Subcommittee or directly to the PDA. In the coming months, the Steering Committee will be establishing a website to facilitate communication with all of the stakeholders in the PA hemp supply chain.
Pennsylvania companies currently make oils, textiles, CBD, and even construction and insulation materials from hemp, just to name a few products. Pennsylvania is uniquely positioned to develop robust local supply chains within the Commonwealth that will be able to capture much of the value in these emerging industries. I believe by working together we will be able to position Pennsylvania as an industry leader in local supply chain development. The panel discussion entitled “Grow Local, Process Local, Buy Local - Building Our Supply Chains” at the 2020 PA Hemp Summit was an excellent time to learn more about capitalizing on these local economic opportunities, sharing information across the state, and building partnerships with diverse business owners.
As you can see, I feel the exciting future of the hemp industry in the Commonwealth is bright. However, we all need to work together to broaden and enhance the growth of this industry and ensure that value is captured by everyone involved in the supply chain, from the farmer to the processor to the product designer and manufacturer. I believe that, together, we can make Pennsylvania a hemp industry leader in the United States.