Some Pee Dee farmers are banking on a pilot program allowing up to 20 farmers to grow industrial hemp proves to be a cash crop and the new tobacco.
In May 2017, legislation was passed to allow the legal growth of industrial hemp in South Carolina for research purposes.
Under a pilot program for industrial hemp, up to 20 farmers can receive permits to grow up to 20 acres of industrial hemp.
Many farmers have struggled for nearly 20 years with the near demise of the tobacco crop across the Pee Dee due to direct contracts with cigarette companies.
Tobacco still remains one of the state’s most profitable crop.
Robbie Springs comes from a generation of farmers in Lake City. Springs said they now farm just 265 acres, but he remembers when tobacco was king of Lake City.
“There used to be six warehouses, I’m pretty sure, in Lake City that employed a many people during the summertime and before and after. A lot of revenue was generated through tobacco through that time and now that revenue is gone. There’s no warehouses there,” said Springs.
Springs said he’s applied to grow industrial hemp and believes it can help farmers across the Pee Dee strive again like they were doing the tobacco days.
“So, hopefully this will be a crop that can take the place of that (tobacco) and generate jobs in our area. I look forward to the opportunity of what it will give us. Maybe another crop that we can grow, expand your farms,” explained Springs.
He believes his chances of being selected to grow industrial hemp appear good because an industrial hemp processing plant is set to be built in Lake City.
According to a news release, Tucker Naturals, LLC, plans to use land in the Godley Morris Commerce Center to build and manage an industrial hemp processing and extraction facility.
The company, along with its investment partner Caropar Investments, says their intent is to support South Carolina farmers participating in the states industrial hemp pilot program.
Billy Morris of Godley Morris Group, LLC said he helped recruit Tucker Naturals and led them to the perfect spot in Lake City.
Morris believes the hemp processing facility is a good fit for Lake City.
“The climate is all type of excellent. We think the Pee Dee region will benefit probably better than any of the region in the state. The climate is all type of excellent. And the horticultural side of the crop is like tobacco, like a tobacco plant. The farmers are needing new crops to generate new revenue for them,” said Morris.