ALBANY – In gearing up for planting season for Georgia’s budding hemp industry next year, farmers will return to Albany on Tuesday to learn more about growing the recently legalized plant.
Pretoria Fields Collective Brewery will host potential growers and others interested in getting in the business during a meeting at 6 p.m. at the 120 Pine Ave. beer production facility. The session, which will feature an agronomist and growers from a state where growing hemp plants has been legal for a couple of years, is billed as a follow-up to an October meeting that drew more than 150 people.
“We’re going to get them more into farming, give them some of what the dos and don’ts are and get them ready to farm,” said Pretoria Fields farm manager Harris Morgan. “We’re just going to try to hone in on what’s important.”
Speakers will discuss a number of aspects of hemp growing, including the equipment needed, genetics, testing, harvesting and drying. A question-and-answer session will follow. Dinner will be provided, and at least 100 farmers are expected to attend.
About 30 farmers have given fairly firm commitments to grow hemp, whose first planting season is expected to kick off in the spring, Morgan said.
Georgia lawmakers earlier this year approved legislation that made growing hemp legal, and the state is awaiting approval from the federal government for its plan to allow planting in 2020. The legalization of hemp came after the 2018 Farm Bill decriminalized hemp, which is a plant in the cannabis family, as is marijuana. The difference between the two is that hemp has a level of THC – the predominant psychoactive chemical in marijuana that gives the user a “high” – of less than 0.3 percent.
Under Georgia’s law, farmers must be associated with an extraction facility in order to be permitted to grow the plant.
Pretoria Fields, which will plant some hemp at its farm in Mitchell County, plans to start small and build the industry from the ground up. It is asking farmers to start with a small amount – no more than 5 acres – the first year. It also will offer support for the growers.
The company will hire an agronomist to assist growers, Morgan said. It also will help in training workers to harvest the plant. Harvesting must be done by hand and carefully so as not to bruise the delicate flowers and leaves, which is the parts of the plant that is sent for processing.
Growing hemp has some special requirements, as the processed product will be used in products sold for consumption by humans.
Pretoria Fields also is constructing a processing plant in Lee County.
“The building should be finished by the end of December and be ready to receive and install equipment in January,” Morgan said.