Climate challenges may delay Florida hemp production

Hemp has been legal in Florida since 2017, but state researchers say that the Sunshine State’s unusual climate means it could be years before private farmers can sign up to try the new crop.

Florida wants to make sure hemp isn’t invasive in its warm, humid climate, according to Growing Produce, a trade publication for specialty crop growers.

The state may also struggle to find seeds from Europe and Canada that can be commercially viable so far south.

Most of Florida is considered a humid subtropical climate, but south Florida is the only tropical area in the mainland U.S. That could change how hemp performs.

Robert Gilbert, chairman of the University of Florida’s Agronomy Department, said future sustainability of an industrial hemp industry in the Sunshine State requires a preliminary assessment of the crop and cropping systems prior to commercialization.

“We are in the process of choosing locations in south, central and north Florida to encompass the broad range of climate and soils where hemp may be grown,” Gilbert said.

Jerry Fankhauser, assistant director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, said Florida’s ability to produce hemp for a burgeoning oil, fiber and feedstock industry is appealing, but still daunting.

“Given the challenges associated with obtaining industrial hempseed from other states, Canada and even Europe, it may be late 2018 into 2019 before the first trials are in the ground,” he said.