Hemp is lighting up Florida agriculture, state leader says

New hemp law prompts questions
New hemp law prompts questions

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Hemp is blazing among Florida’s agriculture inventory in the seven months since it was first allowed to be legally grown in the Sunshine State, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried told business leaders Tuesday.

Fried said 22,078 acres are currently licensed for hemp, nearly equal to the acreage in Florida of tomatoes, watermelon and snap peas, and double the strawberry production.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services first issued hemp cultivation permits on April 27.

“I have projected that we are going to have seen, within the next three to five years, nearly 300,000 acres, which is about half of what citrus is,” Fried told members of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors in a virtual call Tuesday morning. “So, imagine all the citrus industry here in the state of Florida -- about 700,000 acres -- and so we’re going to be getting close to half of that.”

A 2018 federal farm bill legalized hemp as an agricultural product after decades of debate about the issue.

Industrial hemp can be used in numerous products and is different from euphoria-causing marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law.

Florida lawmakers in 2019 passed a bill to take advantage of the federal farm law, creating a program to regulate cultivation of hemp.

Fried, a one time medical marijuana lobbyist, estimated the current acreage will produce $270 million in economic impact, $136 million in revenue and support more than 8,000 jobs.

And she said the forecast is for those numbers to double as the acreage of hemp is expected to reach 35,000 by next April.

Overall, the agricultural industry, while facing a potential $5 billion impact from the coronavirus pandemic, remains one of the state’s biggest economic drivers as tourism is down 34% this year, Fried noted.