COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For the first time, farmers in the state of South Carolina can legally grow industrial hemp. It's a plant that comes from the same species as marijuana, but with a much lower concentration of the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol.
There are a limited number of farmers able to grow the crop as part of a pilot program in South Carolina allowing only 20 farmers to apply for a permit to grow industrial hemp.
Nat Bradford, owner of the Bradford Family Farm in Sumter, says it's a big honor.
"I've always dreamed of what it would be like to grow this crop," Bradford said.
The Bradford Family Farm has been operating in Sumter since 1750 growing corn, okra, and watermelons. Now, for the first time that list includes industrial hemp.
"We're learning how to plant them. How they're going to respond to different conditions and how close to space them," Bradford said.
Hemp is a form of the cannabis plant, only containing less than .3% of the chemical THC. Just last year, the South Carolina General Assembly passed a bill allowing a limited number of farmers to grow the crop.
"There's 20 of us farmers this first year, with the pilot program in South Carolina and out of the 20 of us, I'm the only one growing for grain production as a food oil. Just like any other olive oil or seed oil, we're just going to press the seeds and extract the oil and we'll get a good oil for culinary use," Bradford said.
Oil that's full of omega 3 fatty acids – like fish oil without the after-taste – and you're getting two-for-one! Bradford says the seeds left over have health benefits, too.
"It's like protein powder. So, those folks that are into smoothies and health shakes and stuff, this is a good way to add protein to your smoothie," Bradford said.
Contrary to what some may think about the plant in the cannabis family, Bradford explained, "This is not marijuana. There's some of the same chemical components in both of them, but to call marijuana and hemp the same plant would be the same as calling our dog, Little Bear over there, a wolf. They're related but they are not the same thing. Two very, very different plants."
The hemp plant can also be used to make clothing, plastics, and biofuel among a list of other products.
"I look at a plant that God made that has so many uses for mankind. He called it good and we called it bad. I want to be part of its repatriation and see it back in the farmland again," Bradford said.
The first year of the pilot program, only 20 farmers could apply for the permit to grow industrial hemp. The plan is to allow 20 more farmers to apply for the second year of the program.
Farmers who successfully obtain permits are allowed to grow up to 40 acres of the hemp crop.