The number of acres permitted to grow industrial hemp in Pennsylvania is going to increase 100-fold in 2018, from less than 50 to possibly more than 5,000.
This year was the first since the 1930s that farmers could legally grow the plant, which does not have psychoactive properties. Right now, the growing of industrial hemp is only allowed for research purposes, though eventually Pennsylvania farmers could grow the plant for cooking oil, biofuel, medicine or other uses.
State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said the crop could increase the productivity of existing farmland.
"Research ... at Penn State (showed) that you can actually use industrial hemp as a double crop, behind wheat. I think if that plays out to be real, that is a game changer," he said. "You immediately change what options farmers have and you open up new markets."
But before Pennsylvania hemp can be sold for commercial use, farmers need to figure out how to harvest it, said Redding.
"So what do you want? Do you want the fibrous stems? Do you really just want the seed heads? All of that was part of a conversation and exploration this past year," he said.
Individual growers or higher education institutions can both apply for permits to grow the crop, which are due on Jan. 19.