A farmer inspects the growth of a hemp plant on his property in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina. Credit: Melissa Sue Gerrits | AP

With last fall’s passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the federal government decriminalized growing industrial hemp in this country. Next month state and university officials will discuss this emerging crop and what it could mean for Maine growers as part of the annual Maine Grain Conference in Presque Isle.

A presentation on industrial hemp by officials with the Cooperative Extension, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the University of Vermont may be of particular interest to growers looking to diversify into the crop, according to Dr. Ellen Mallory, sustainable agriculture specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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Before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp was considered a federally controlled substance because of its similarity to marijuana.

Hemp contains Cannabidiol — also known as CBD — one of the 60 naturally occurring compounds found in Cannabis. Unlike marijuana, it does not contain THC — delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. CBD is non-psychoactive and does not cause any feelings of getting high if consumed.

The 2018 Farm Bill included an amendment legalizing the production of industrial hemp.

The U.S. is the No. 1 importer of industrial hemp, which is used to make paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, health food and fuel. In 2013, the U.S. spent $581 million on industrial hemp-based products.

“There are a lot of questions around growing hemp in Maine,” Mallory said. “There have been a lot of new developments in terms of what is allowed and what is legal. We hope the presentation will help clear up some of these questions and concerns [and] give a realistic look at what is involved with the crop.”

Sponsored by the cooperative extension, this year’s conference will be held 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, on the UMPI campus.

Topics will cover planting, growing and marketing grains, storage, finances, diseases and grain variety trials.

“Maine is absolutely a great state to grow grain,” Mallory said. “Maine grows 50,000 acres of grain annually.”

The bulk of that grain, Mallory said, is oats and barley grown in rotation with potatoes in northern Maine.

The ever-evolving technology in agriculture will be discussed in a presentation on camera-guided systems which use cameras, computers and robotics for precision cultivation in grain fields.

This is of particular interest to organic grain farmers, Mallory said, as without this technology they are forced to plant their grains in rows far enough apart to allow foot traffic to hand-cultivate and hand-weed.

“This conference is for all growers of grain in Maine,” Mallory said. “We will be addressing topics of interest to conventional and organic producers.”

Registration deadline for the conference is Feb. 21 with a $45 fee that includes lunch, 5.5 certified crop adviser credits and two pesticide credits.

Registration is available online at www.extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/maine-grain-workshop/.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.