Penn State researchers look at best ways to grow hemp

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Sep 23, 2017 8:00 AM

FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2014, file photo, a tractor cuts a small plot of hemp at a University of Kentucky research plot near Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)

(Harrisburg) -- Researchers at Penn State have been getting an up-close look at a crop that's been banned for decades in the commonwealth.

Industrial hemp was outlawed along with marijuana in the 1930s. The plants are related, but hemp cannot get a person high. It can produce seeds that can be used as a salad or yogurt topping, pressed into an oil, or ground into an animal feed. The plant also produces fibers that can be used for everything from clothing to bioplastics.

Agronomy Professor Greg Roth and a team of researchers at Penn State have been studying the crop this summer through permission from the General Assembly.

They've experimented with several different ways to grow the crop.

"There's no herbicides labelled for growing hemp," Roth said, "so growing taller varieties, and seeding them a little thicker, and planting them early are all good practices for helping to minimize the weed competition."

He says it's too early to tell what the economic impact of hemp would be in the state, since markets are limited and competition exists from other states.

"I don't think it will totally replace things like corn and soybeans, but I think it will be a niche crop that some farmers can grow and develop into some value-added products that contain hemp," Roth said. 

He added he looks forward to comparing notes with other researchers growing hemp under this pilot program to identify best growing practices and the potential market.

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