Big boost for Orange County hemp industry

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 11/4/20

 

 

WARWICK, NY — With new regulations around hemp production in New York State, state and industry leaders are hoping to see a cannabidiol (CBD) boom in Orange …

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Big boost for Orange County hemp industry

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WARWICK, NY — With new regulations around hemp production in New York State, state and industry leaders are hoping to see a cannabidiol (CBD) boom in Orange County. 

Sen. Jen Metzger (SD-42) joined Warwick supervisor Mike Sweeton, farmer Mark Rogowski, Orange County IDA CEO Laurie Villasuso, among some hemp industry leaders at a press conference outside of Kaycha Labs in Warwick last week to announce “major new initiatives” to advance the county’s hemp industry.

Industrial hemp is of the plant species cannabis sativa. While it looks very similar to marijuana plants, industrial hemp contains no more than .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Because of its connection to marijuana, growing hemp was long outlawed in the United States until the 2018 Farm Bill removed the plant from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. Since then, hemp has become the fastest growing crop in the country. In New York, however, it has not always been an easy product to sell.

As required by legislation co-sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Metzger last year, the NYS Department of Health (DOH) has recently released its draft regulations for CBD and other hemp extracts. Most promisingly, the draft regulations allow for CBD-infused beverages and food, and if finalized, would “greatly expand opportunities for developing a wider range of CBD products,” according to Metzger.

The DOH will be accepting public comment on the regulations between November 10 and January 11 of next year.

The regulations may not yet be finalized, but partnerships between hemp producers and beverage-makers are already forming. At the press conference in Warwick, Orange County-based companies Urban Extracts, Rogowski Farms and Hillview Med announced a partnership in which locally grown and processed hemp extract will be sourced for a CBD-infused seltzer called Kaló, distributed by Pepsi. 

“Now we have the rules of the game, and now we know what we’re shooting for,” Urban Extracts CEO Eran Sherin said.

After the 2018 farm bill, many farmers in New York got into growing hemp, which was promised to be a major cash crop. However, hemp-growing has come with its fair share of difficulties for farmers like Mark Rogowski.

“2018 was a pilot year for us, we did very good with whatever we had which let us make considerable infrastructure and equipment purchases for 2019,” he said. “2019 was horrible, there’s no market… we’re going to be selling our 2019 crop, which we still have, for probably less than a dollar a pound.”

Rogowski said that in 2018, farmers were promised by the state and federal government that hemp would be allowed in food and beverages. By 2019, that still wasn’t the case, “which killed a good chunk of the demand.”

The second part of the problem was “gross overproduction,” according to Rogowski.

At the press conference, Metzger also announced $250,000 in state funding to the Town of Warwick to purchase trimming and testing equipment for rent to local farmers, reducing the cost of diversifying into hemp production. The equipment will be housed at the Orange County Industrial Development Agency Accelerator, which Villasuso announced will occupy one of the historic buildings at the Warwick Tech Park to provide manufacturing and office space for CBD-related small businesses that participate in the IDA’s Accelerator program.

“During this challenging economic time, it is important that we capitalize on new opportunities for our farmers and businesses, and create the conditions for the hemp industry to grow and thrive,” Metzger said. “New York is well-positioned to be a leader in this promising new industry, and I look forward to continuing to work with our local partners to build on the successful public-private partnership that is well underway here in Warwick.”  

Rogowski is hopeful that these draft regulations will help materialize that market hemp farmers were promised in 2018.

“Hopefully it sparks demand; hopefully it sparks interest in the food and beverage side of it,” he said. “What we’re also encouraged about this legislation is that it’s got to be a New York-grown product. There’s going to be strict protocols for people to sell this product in New York so people are comfortable with what they’re consuming.”

Local officials are feeling optimistic as well.

“Our hemp initiative had stalled since the regulations were under review which forced companies to put their plans for investment on hold. I reached out to Metzger for help and she delivered by working to get NYS to issue these regulations. This will now jump-start our effort to redevelop the former prison and create jobs here in Warwick,” supervisor Sweeton said.

Public comment on the draft regulations can be submitted at www.bit.ly/HempRegulation

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