Albert Bueno was one of the few farmers with fields located in The T&D Region who participated in the state’s industrial hemp pilot program this year.

He is looking forward to building on what he learned heading into next year’s pilot project.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture selected Bueno as one of 20 farmers in the state for the 2018 Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. The crop was grown on a total of 365 acres in 15 counties.

Approximately 45 acres of hemp were grown in The T&D Region. Bueno, a resident of Lexington County, planted 20 acres in Orangeburg County. The other farmers were John Fogle and Patrick Jamison Jr.

Bueno said the hemp stand that he is growing is for the production of CBD oil, one of more than 120 compounds called cannabinoids. Unlike other cannabinoids – such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – CBD oil does not produce a euphoric “high” or psychoactive effect. Its range of applications includes pain relief and the treatment of seizures.

Bueno said his experience in this year’s pilot program has been fulfilling. 

“The Department of Agriculture has been spot-on on everything. They’re really doing a great job, and had a lot of vision to first get it passed and then to get this up and running. So it’s been a great experience,” he said.

“It was a season of learning. Probably one of our bigger problems was really dealing with all the shenanigans we had to deal with with out-of-state vendors, out-of-state companies (such as) Colorado, Kentucky and California," Bueno said.

“We’d lose so much time wading through crooks, and once you got through them and you got to the right people, it was a pretty good experience. We got our stuff late so we planted late. Part of that was due to the heavy rain. But outside of that, it was a great learning experience."

“We got all 20 acres planted, and we harvested all 20 acres. And so we’re excited,” Bueno said.

The SCDA received 162 applications to grow hemp next year. Forty farmers representing 24 counties throughout the state were selected. Nineteen of the 20 permitted growers from last year are included in the second round of growers, including Bueno, who will be planting 40 acres of hemp in Orangeburg County.

The other growers are John Andrew Fogle and James Ulmer, both of whom are planting in Orangeburg County; Randle Palmer Quimby and Richard Alan Varnadoe, both of whom will be planting in Bamberg County; and Felicia Roshell Jamison, who will grow in Calhoun and Orangeburg counties.

“We’re very excited, and hope we will have an extraction facility built in Orangeburg County as well next year so we’ll be totally self-sufficient," Bueno said. "That’s probably the biggest lesson we learned from season one to season two, and that was that we need to be totally dependent on ourselves. We’re in a position to do that now so we’re pretty excited."

He said the facility will be used to extract the CDB oil from the industrial hemp crop.

“The hemp stand that we’re growing is for CBD oil. So it’s a piece of equipment that extracts the oil out of the plant. The beauty of that plant is that we would sell all the leftovers to somebody. It’s a great plant because nothing goes to waste,” Bueno said.

He said while Hurricane Michael’s high winds and rains delayed his harvest, he is looking forward to next year.

“The hurricane caused us some problems because it delayed our harvest by a week, but we’ll be in a much better position next year from all the lessons learned. Of course, the biggest thing is being self-sufficient,” Bueno said.

He said he's grateful he hasn't had a problem with thieves stealing his hemp crop.

“The Department of Agriculture has done a pretty good job ... of just publishing the fact that it’s not marijuana. You can’t get high off of it. It looks like marijuana, it smells like marijuana, but it does not have an hallucinogenic effect,” Bueno said.

The new state law defines industrial hemp as any part of the plant with a THC concentration that does not exceed .3 percent on a dried weight basis. Anything above that is considered marijuana and is illegal in the state.

Fields are tested to ensure the concentration does not exceed the legal limit. Should it exceed the legal limit, the crop will be destroyed, according to the SCDA.

Vanessa N. Elsalah, an agriculture outreach specialist in the SCDA’s Consumer Protection Division, said theft of industrial hemp is not common.

“There is a total of two out of the 20 growers in the state that have reported theft on their hemp farm,” Elsalah said.

The regulation of hemp may soon come to an end, she said.

The Senate version of the current U.S. Farm Bill would declassify hemp as a controlled substance, which it has been since the 1970s, Elsalah said.

“If the 2018 Farm Bill passes with the proposed hemp-production language that we've seen in the Senate's version of the bill, industrial hemp will be ... defined as an agricultural commodity. However, the production of hemp will still be subject to a state plan established by the state departments of agriculture and submitted to and approved by USDA,” she said.

Elsalah added, “Under the state plans, state departments of agriculture will still be required to issue licenses, maintain records of growing areas and create procedures for testing. It is hard to say exactly what SCDA's state plan would look like, especially since we don’t know what regulatory guidance USDA would provide."

“Although Congress failed to pass the Farm Bill by Oct. 1 (when the prior bill expired), there is still time for Congress to pass the Farm Bill before a new session begins next year," she said. "SCDA is monitoring the progress of the legislation.”

In the meantime, S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers stated in a press release that he is excited about this year’s selection of growers in the 2019 hemp pilot program.

“I’m excited about the increased interest in growing industrial hemp, and look forward to working with each of the 40 growers this upcoming year to continually build upon our state’s agriculture industry,” Weathers said.

The department's selection process for the pilot program was based on several key factors, including completed application, agriculture experience, geographic balance, accredited college/university partner, purpose of the crop, processor experience and location and ability to secure needed equipment and financing.

Seven accredited universities will work with pilot program participants: University of South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University, Clemson University, USC Beaufort, Furman University and the College of Charleston.

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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Staff Writer

Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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