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Could the hemp industry be the new frontier?

Seeing green

Isabel Braverman - Staff Writer
Posted 5/20/21

REGION — The green plant that produces marijuana—hemp—has been talked about a lot recently, as states move to make it legal.

But it's actually been around for centuries, being first …

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Could the hemp industry be the new frontier?

Seeing green

Posted

REGION — The green plant that produces marijuana—hemp—has been talked about a lot recently, as states move to make it legal.

But it's actually been around for centuries, being first cultivated in China and years later grown by George Washington on his property at Mount Vernon (although the account that the U.S. Constitution was written on hemp paper is actually a myth).

Today, conversations and research continue about the plant's uses and its cultivation. For instance, it can be used to make bio-plastic, a biodegradable alternative to regular plastic that uses fossil fuels.

“The industrial hemp industry could present a pretty exciting opportunity for Sullivan County,” said Heather Brown, the county's Sustainability Coordinator for the Office of Sustainable Energy.

Brown spoke before the county legislators recently to talk about bringing hemp farms and manufacturers to the region.

She said there are 25,000 different products known of that use industrial hemp in nine different markets, from agriculture to building.

“So we're going well beyond CBD,” she said. “We're talking about using hemp in every day products, which are always needed.”

This includes paper, textiles, clothing, rope, insulation, food and much more.

Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp both derive from the species Cannabis sativa and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they are distinct strains with unique phytochemical compositions and uses.

Brown said her office has been doing research on using hemp as a building material, such as in insulation or concrete, which is naturally carbon sequestering, making it an exceedingly sustainable option.

“We do think this is something that could be cultivated and processed locally, while delivering benefits not just for farmers and the economy but also environmental and human health benefits as well,” she said.

The economic aspect could help farmers by bringing in a new revenue stream, especially for dairy farmers who have been struggling in recent years and who have large hay fields that could be used for growing hemp.

In addition, Brown said, hemp is beneficial to soils because it removes heavy metals and other contaminants from soil, suppresses weed growth naturally, and reduces the need for herbicides.

Brown said her office has been having conversations with experts in the field as well as local organizations such as SUNY Sullivan and Cornell Cooperative Extension in hopes of bringing the hemp industry to the county.

“The timing is right to get our ducks in a row now,” Brown said.

After making her presentation to the legislators, they agreed that it would be a good idea to get the ball rolling.

“I think it sounds like an opportunity economically that we should look to promote and educate people,” said Legislator Mike Brooks, Chair of the Economic Development Committee.

Legislature Chairman Rob Doherty echoed those sentiments.

“This could be an economic factor for us,” he said. “And agriculture is our [main] business.”

This is part one of a series that will take a look at the hemp industry, new laws and uses in New York State and its impact on Sullivan County.

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