Cornell Field Crops News

Timely Field Crops information for the New York Agricultural Community

New York State Industrial Hemp Trials

For the latest updates on industrial hemp trials at Cornell, please visit:

There have been a number of inquiries about potential industrial hemp trials in NYS in 2015.  Here is my view of the current state of affairs (from Jerry Cherney):

  1. Industrial hemp is not marijuana. Hemp has very low THC content, the psychoactive component of marijuana. So unless you want to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole, you can’t get a high from hemp.
  2. NYS passed a law allowing research trial sites for industrial hemp in NYS in 2015, becoming the 19th state legalizing either research and/or production industrial hemp trials. At this time, the NYS law does not take effect until mid-June, so nothing could be planted before then. It may be possible to amend the law.
  3. Agronomic guidelines are not obvious for NYS conditions. Seeding rates for hemp have varied from 10 to 125 lbs/acre, optimal seeding rates may be around 25 lbs/acre. Hemp should be planted after danger of a hard freeze, maybe a little later than corn, when soil temperatures reach 50 F. Like corn, it likes warm weather, well-drained soils, and good fertility. A 6-8” row spacing is typically used, ideally ending up with around 10 plants per square foot.
  4. There is also a range in maturity ratings, but varieties are available that may have as short a season as 110 to 120 days to grain maturity. Maturity ratings from other regions may not apply here. There are seed-type hemps, fiber-type hemps, and dual purpose hemps. Seed-type hemps are shorter (5-7’ tall), while fiber types may be 10-15’ tall, with dual purpose intermediate in height.
  5. Hemp clearly has problems with harvesting, tending to wrap up and plug combines, the taller the hemp the greater the issue. Some modifications have helped with this.
  6. There is a wide range of products that come from hemp fiber and seed. Right now there is an organized market for hemp seed, and less of an organized market for other hemp products.
  7. NYS Ag & Markets has formed a Hemp Work Group, and is currently working on a set of guidelines governing any hemp trials. It is difficult to make any plans for potential trials before guidelines are developed.
  8. At least two companies/organizations are interested in sponsoring hemp trials or providing varieties for testing. One of these groups is planning 2015 hemp trials in Vermont and Maine. Most likely a number of other states will conduct trials.
  9. Funding, the elephant in the room. The interested organizations would like to partner with Cornell and other institutions to conduct trials, but there may not be enough funds to actually conduct the trials, without partners contributing. Discussions with other groups over the past 4 years about potential hemp trials (even though illegal at that time), indicated that there was limited funding available for hemp trials from the industry.
  10. At this time there is no financial support for hemp trials from NYS or from Cornell. (It appears that the state of Kentucky and several other states are providing some sort of financial support for organized hemp variety trials). Hemp research trials were conducted in Kentucky, Colorado, and Vermont in 2014.
  11. Federal law still forbids planting of hemp for any reason, but there is legislation proposed to change this. It is not clear at this time what sort of regulations will be necessary for growing hemp in NYS. Last year Kentucky attempted and eventually got hemp trials planted considerably later than normal, because the seed was being held by DEA until they were politically forced to release the seed for some late May plantings. The problem with DEA has been resolved for 2015.

A mid-June or later planting date will be very problematic for getting a mature hemp crop in 2015. It may be possible to plant in late June and still get a mature crop, but it is unlikely. Kentucky was successful in getting a grain crop in 2014, after planting in late May, but their growing season is 2-3 weeks longer in the fall compared to ours.

Regardless of the products produced from hemp, agronomically it can be treated essentially as a grain crop, which could be successfully grown by NYS farmers with grain crop expertise. One of the better quotes I found is: “Probably more so than any plant in living memory, hemp attracts people to attempt its cultivation without first acquiring a realistic appreciation of the possible pitfalls. American presidents Washington and Jefferson encouraged the cultivation of hemp, but both lost money trying to grow it.” Hemp cultivation in Canada over the past 15 years has had mixed results, a large investment in hemp for fiber was not linked to the development of an organized market. Teenagers raided fields in the mistaken belief they were getting marijuana. Growing this crop in NYS will be benefited by informing local and statewide media of the facts about industrial hemp.


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