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Florida Ag Commissioner talks up the potential of hemp as an economic driver at Synapse Summit

Margie Manning

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Nikki Fried, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Hemp could become the state’s next big industry, according to Nikki Fried, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Fried, the only Democrat to hold statewide office and the first woman elected as agriculture commissioner, outlined the potential for hemp and other innovations in agriculture during the Synapse Summit earlier this week in Tampa.

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that contains low levels of THC. It’s been described as a “non-intoxicating” cannabis, unlike marijuana with higher levels of THC.

The Florida Legislature last year approved legislation establishing a state hemp program, in the wake of the 2018 federal farm bill that removed prohibitions placed on industrial hemp 80 years earlier. New hemp rules for the state took effect Jan. 1.

The state has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has begun issuing permits for processing, manufacting, distributing and retailing CBD, a hemp extract intended for ingestion.

“We are anticipating having 100,000 to 300,000 acres in the next five to 10 years. It’s not just for human and animal consumption. The part that makes me excited is the industrial side. It’s going to be a $20 billion to $30 billion industry here in the state,” Fried said.

Hemp products could replace plastics and Styrofoam. Using biodegradable hempcrete instead of concrete would be better for the environment. The fashion industry is already using hemp in many products, she said.

“We are excited to get entrepreneurs across the state working hand in hand with universities to start research, to make sure we are utilizing every aspect of this plant, to move our state forward, to protect our environment and to really create new, innovative ways to use their hemp plant. As of today, we are looking forward to getting cultivation into our state and being the actual gold standard for the entire country when it comes to growing and processing and researching the hemp plant,” Fried said.

Agriculture is Florida’s No. 2 industry, second only to tourism, with a $137 billion statewide impact. There are more than 47,000 working farms and two million jobs in the industry in Florida.

“We’re not only feeding ourselves, we’re feeding our neighbors and we’re feeding the world,” Fried said. “But as we know the economy is changing, the environment is changing and the only way to move forward is through innovation.”

Fried led a trade mission to Israel last year, where she talked to 20 to 30 companies that have helped turn a desert into the most fertile land in the world. She hopes to bring that same innovation to Florida.

“I have a goal and a vision that the state of Florida is going to be the Silicon Valley of the east when it comes to agriculture,” Fried said.

Fried has established an Innovation and Technology Task Force and plans workshops across the state over the next several months, to get input from companies and producers.

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