MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida is likely just months away from officially allowing farmers to plant hemp in the Sunshine State. It would be the first time it’s allowed since the 1950s.
The hemp and CBD oil craze has swept the nation over the last few years, with claims the plant can be used for thousands of products and also help everything from anxiety to pain. As many as 8,000 farmers are expected to apply for a Florida hemp license. But for as popular as hemp is, early tests show it may be a big gamble.
In South Miami-Dade, under lock and key, is a test farm for the University of Florida. CBS4 agreed not to disclose its exact location because researchers are worried criminals might be after what is inside. The first thing you notice as you approach the field is the smell. Dr. Zachary Brym, an agroecologist with the University of Florida laughs when asked about it.
“It smells like marijuana. Smells like hemp. It’s cannabis. And that’s why you can’t tell,” he said.
When CBS4 first visited this field in May it was bare. Dr. Brym had just planted his hemp seeds. Five months later, it’s filled with what looks like and smells like marijuana. Brym assures us it’s not. But really, he has no idea unless he takes it to a lab for testing.
Hemp is hot. A crop that everyone from entrepreneurs to politicians is pitching as a miracle plant for making clothes, construction materials, feed for animals, and of course the ever so popular CBD oil.
This year Florida, following the federal government’s lead, passed laws to allow hemp farming.
UF began statewide tests in secret fields this summer to see if the plant would grow here. Brym smiles as he walks through the field. His experiment was quite the success. Rows of healthy hemp plants line the field.
“These are happy and healthy plants by and large which we are really happy to see,” he said.
But just across from there are plants that grew maybe a foot and then died, exactly as Brym had predicted. Where the seeds came from influenced whether they succeeded or not. Sections with seeds from Canada and Colorado struggled. Sections with seeds from warmer climates like China thrived. He points to a section of the field with seeds from China.
“So this plant was pretty happy, of course it doesn’t look as happy now that we’ve harvested it and it’s begun to dry down. But this plant is within the 12-foot mark,” he said.
Healthy 12-foot hemp plants have farmers seeing dollar signs. But before UF can celebrate their success there were a few major problems. They discovered pests in the form of bugs and a lack of pesticides concerning. They also learned hemp is very sensitive to water.
“We had our field in the Gainesville area that received five inches of rain in a week and we lost the entire experiment because we just couldn’t get the water out of the field fast enough,” explained Brym.
A wet summer in Florida? Not unheard of.
The bigger problem though was when some of his field turned into marijuana.
When hemp gets too hot, especially in plants grown to produce CBD oil, the THC in the plant rises. THC is the chemical found in marijuana that can get you high. If the THC levels rise above point three percent (.03), the hemp plant is technically no longer hemp. It’s called marijuana, and it is illegal. And that happened on Dr. Brym’s farm this summer.
“Some of those did go hot. Some of those from southern latitudes of China would have been great candidates for Florida,” he said.
So the seeds best suited for Florida climate, ironically were also most likely to produce marijuana if not monitored closely. It is an issue Brym believes could be a real problem for Florida farmers.
“What happens if your field goes hot? Well, you have to destroy all the material that goes hot, which in some cases could be your entire crop,” Brym said.