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Wyndridge Farm has been named the sole grower and processor of hemp  for Albright College's research of the fibrous material originating from the cannabis plant.

The college, located in Reading, Berks County, is one of 60 entities recently permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to study the versatile material. Wyndridge Farm, just south of Dallastown in York Township, announced the partnership in a Wednesday, Jan. 9, news release. 

“There are thousands of uses for industrial hemp,” said Steve Groff, an Albright alumnus who co-owns the farm with his wife, Julie. “Part of the need for Pennsylvania is to determine which to focus on first.”

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Research permits: The efforts date back to 2014, when Congress passed the  Omnibus Farm Bill, which allowed states to issue research permits for farmers to cultivate and research hemp legally.

Gov. Tom Wolf then signed the Industrial Hemp Research Act in 2016, which let the state start its own Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program that was officially implemented in 2017.

Through such pilots alone, in 2017 the nationwide retail value of hemp sales was estimated to be $820 million, according to Vote Hemp, one of the largest hemp advocacy groups in the country.

More: Could the 2018 Farm Bill restore York County's hemp heritage?

More: Often overlooked, sustainable farming can have 'more effective' impact on climate

More recently, President Donald Trump in December signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which provided $867 billion in relief for farmers and legalized the industrial growth and cultivation of hemp nationwide.

While state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers said the department is "incredibly excited" about the farm bill, the pilot program allowing entities to study hemp is still an important effort to determine additional uses of the material, its market viability and more.

Hemp history: Hemp has been a vital and lucrative industry throughout the state since the late 17th century, and Lancaster County was one of the largest hemp producers in the nation.

Hemp has historically been used for up to 25,000 different commercial products, including textiles, furniture, automobiles, food and beverages and more, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The production of hemp eventually faced a decline as other materials gained popularity, but in 1907 Hanover helped revitalize the industry, mostly producing hemp for the Hanover Cordage Co.

But it was still targeted just three decades later in 1937, when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which made it nearly impossible to grow industrial hemp by slapping excessive taxes on marijuana and later criminalizing both in totality.

Hemp, although derived from the marijuana plant, contains minuscule amounts — less than 0.3 percent — of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive drug that gives users a high. 

Hemp also contains roughly 3.5 percent cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical that produces many of the medical benefits of marijuana but does not get the user high.

Studying hemp: “There is a lot of passion in trying to do things the right way,” Groff said. “There are a lot of unknowns about the health and wellness benefits of cannabinoids, so we need to show integrity in expressing what we do and don’t know in order to raise the bar on research and education in this rapidly evolving area.”

Not only is the permit good news for Wyndridge Farm, which was named the 2018 Small Business of the Year by the York County Economic Alliance, but it also will benefit Albright's students, said college President Jacquelyn Fetrow.

“This very exclusive permit creates unique opportunities for Albright students and faculty to participate in data-driven research on the growth, development and marketing of industrial hemp products,” Fetrow said. "We expect the endeavor to provide internship and employment opportunities in a revolutionary industry."

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

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