Hemp is hot. Pop-up shops and products everywhere are touting the availability and benefits of hemp-derived CBD. What is CBD? It’s hemp’s non-intoxicating compound reported to have significant health benefits.
Drive through any commercial district these days and chances are you’ll be bombarded with ads for what looks like marijuana. But hemp is its benign cousin with little to none of the mind-altering compounds. Hemp’s popularity is certainly trending.
But like any emerging market, it’s blue ocean – uncharted territory for the grower and the consumer. To help growers understand and produce profitable crops, Crop and Soil Sciences has dedicated a new team member to focus on this intriguing crop.
Meet David Suchoff, our new Alternative Crops Extension Specialist. We caught up with him for a quick conversation on the potential that hemp and other alternative crops hold for NC.
How long have you been at NC State?
“About a year and a half. I’ve been working in organic production and extension on tobacco, sweet potatoes, and small grains. But I also earned both my masters and PhD in horticulture here at NC State. So it’s really been much longer than that.”
What are your priorities in the new alternative crops extension position?
“The university is working to address the growing need for accurate, unbiased information on hemp production. We will develop recommendations on how best to produce CBD hemp – varieties, fertility, and weed management.
Hemp fiber is another great potential – but there is a bottleneck in fiber processing. There are only one or two hemp fiber processors in NC right now. Hemp fiber is mostly used for clothing, paper, and rope – but there’s also hurd which is the center of the plant. It also has many uses such as bedding and insulation applications.”
What are the biggest opportunities for alternative crops in NC?
“Hemp is interesting because it’s such a good fit for our NC tobacco-growing systems. We have the best farmers in the nation here. Hemp has a lot of similarities to tobacco – in nutrient demand, soils, and curing process.
We’re really well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. Our tobacco farmers have the land and equipment – we’ve got the infrastructure already. We just need to fine-tune what’s possible with reliable research.”
Hemp sounds like a home run. Are there other challenges?
“It’s not a set it and forget it crop like some people first thought. Hemp definitely has pest and disease issues. One big challenge is that existing products are not labeled for use on hemp. The university has teams working to test pesticides and herbicides for hemp use. Particularly for a crop that has an extracted, concentrated product, you have to be careful.
The USDA has released some interim regulations on growing hemp. That really opens the door for us to test products and get proper labeling for hemp so that we can develop recommendations.”
Are there other considerations for alternative crop growers?
“There is so much interest in CBD hemp. Growers have got to make sure they get a contract for their crop. And they have to be licensed by the state of NC to grow it. Without a contract, a farmer could end up sitting on 90-200 lbs of hemp with no market.
We are in a real time of flux with this crop. The USDA and state are releasing regulations that growers need to be aware of and proceed with caution – don’t get caught up in the tide of excitement.”
How will your extension position help NC growers?
“Our research will establish best practices to optimize production and minimize expenses. It will be based on scientifically sound information – not something somebody read on the internet. We will hold county extension meetings, agent training, and field days in the coming months. We will also provide social media, video tutorials, and even hemp conferences in the future.”
Do you offer hemp training for law enforcement?
“Yes! Hemp is crucial for law enforcement because the laws are constantly changing. As an example, NC recently banned smokable hemp, which is the same variety grown for CBD. It can be confusing, so we are working to keep them up to date.
Law enforcement training events are less about how hemp is grown, and more about why it is grown and what the current regulations are. We will show them what it looks like in the field and when growers might be moving large amounts of material. We also explain the hemp licensing process. Law enforcement officials need to know what paperwork is required for a field crop to be legal.
We’ve done several of these law enforcement training events in the past and expect to do more in the future. Keeping everyone informed is critical in this time of change.”
Is your sole focus on hemp?
In large part, but my role is also on new and emerging crops. That includes crops like stevia, clary sage, and biofuels. I’ll also continue some of my organics research too.
Tell us something surprising about you.
“I fell in love with agriculture during my time in the Peace Corps working in both Paraguay and Costa Rica. I worked on crops like sesame, cassava, corn, beans, and pineapple.
I’ve studied agriculture for a long time but my undergraduate degree was actually in music! I’m classically trained in trumpet. But I haven’t been active in a while. I need to get back into it – I need to practice.”
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