SC hemp-farming functions open Jan. 1

South Carolina hemp farmers can start applying Jan. 1 for permits to grow their 2022 crop, the state Department of Agriculture announced last week.

Hemp farming made possible by federal changes in 2018 that legalized growing the marijuana-related plant have kickstarted a small industrial sector of hemp farmers in the Palmetto State.

Growing from a pilot program of 20 farmers in 2017, more than 350 permit applications were submitted in 2021. Lower fees for 2022 could mean even more — if the market can keep up.

Applications for the one-year permits are due Feb. 28 with a $100 application fee. Current and prospective farmers must apply for a permit to grow in 2022. Applications are accepted online only via the S.C. Department of Agriculture. There is no cap on the number of farming, processing or handling permits that can be issued.

With regulations at the state and federal level, farmers have said additional changes are needed in South Carolina to help farmers be able to grow, harvest and sell their crops in state without confusion. Additionally, some law enforcement officials say the influx of now-legal hemp has slowed down drug investigations as crime labs get bogged down trying to distinguish legal hemp from illegal marijuana.

A state-run THC testing lab is also expected to come online over the summer, which the state Department of Agriculture said will “help farmers cut costs and improve operations.” The department’s hemp farm plan requires S.C. farmers to have hemp crops tested before harvest to ensure the plants’ THC contents do not exceed federal limits.