Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Starting August 1, South Carolina farmers will be able to apply for a permit to grow hemp as part of the South Carolina Agriculture Department's (SCDA) industrial hemp pilot program.
Jerry Watson, fourth generation farm owner of Watsonia Farms on the edge of Saluda County, says his family has been in business for almost a century.
"Next year we'll be in business 100 years," Watson said.
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For most of those years, Watson says they only grew peaches.
"We couldn't make peaches always, so we started diversifying," Watson said.
Along with eggplants and 13 other crops Watsonia farms now grows, Watson is looking to add hemp to the list.
"Less water, no herbicides or pesticides, we're going to try it," Watson said.
He's not the only one looking to grow it.
"Well, the phone's been ringing off the wall," said SCDA Commissioner Hugh Weathers.
Weathers says farmers all across the state have shown interest, but they'll only choose 20.
"Twenty farmers the first year, 40 the next," Weathers said.
Recipients of the permit will allowed to grow hemp on 20 acres of land. Weathers says the requirements to apply are going to be strict.
"To know what a farmer's background is, where they're going to do it," Weathers said, "they would then work with SLED, they have to work with a processor, they have to have a signed letter intent with a University for research."
This is in part due to hemp's close relationship to marijuana.
"Hemp is that lower THC cousin of marijuana, below .3," Weathers said, "My readings tell me the only thing you'll get from smoking industrial hemp is a migraine headache."
Marijuana growth for medicinal or recreational purposes is still illegal in the state of South Carolina.
"That is where SLED will be doing the monitoring, to make sure that we keep it in that industrial hemp category," Weathers said. "We want to make sure we administer what the legislature passed."
Weathers says he's excited to see the true potential industrial hemp has in growing our economy.
We have said that for South Carolina agriculture to move forward, we need to bring new crops into our mix,"
A mix Watson hopes to be a part of.
"Throw our name in and see where it comes out," Watson laughed.
The application process will run until September 15, and Weathers says the growing is projected to start next spring. For frequently asked questions and more information about the application process, click here. The application can be accessed from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture website.