Industrial Hemp

In 2018, 226 industrial hemp producers were licensed by the state to cultivate up to 4,767 acres of the plant. Hemp can be used to make building materials, textiles and personal care products. The deadline to apply to become a licensed industrial hemp grower is Feb. 15.

While state legislators debate legalizing marijuana for medical use, other state officials are encouraging Tennessee farmers to consider cultivating a different form of cannabis – specifically hemp – for industrial uses.

Prospective hemp growers have until Friday afternoon to complete the application process to receive the necessary license to grow the crop.

In Tennessee, it is already legal to grow the cannabis hemp plant for industrial hemp purposes only. The agriculture process of growing hemp is heavily monitored, and federal and state laws require that all industrial hemp growers must be licensed through the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) industrial hemp program.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed industrial hemp from the list of federally controlled substances; however, it remains illegal to grow hemp without a license through an approved state program. So, how does someone become involved with the industrial hemp industry, and why is it important?


What’s the difference?

While the cannabis plant yields many products, it’s important to understand the difference between the words hemp, cannabis and marijuana. Public Information Officer Will Freeman, from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, provides helpful insight on those differences.

To the untrained eye hemp and marijuana plants appear similar. However, the plants have distinctions, the main one being that hemp has a very low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for the majority of the plant’s psychological effects, while marijuana has a very high concentration.

“Both hemp and marijuana plants are classified within the cannabis genus,” said Freeman. “However, hemp has less than .3 percent THC, which is the psychoactive component.”

Hemp, with its low THC concentration, is mostly used for industrial purposes.

“From building materials, textiles and personal care products, hemp is known for its many uses,” Freeman said. “Since our program started in 2015, we’ve seen an increase in grower applications and interest. We hope that hemp continues to gain traction and be viewed positively as this crop has the potential to be a valuable alternative crop for Tennessee farmers.”


How to get involved

Tennesseans interested in growing industrial hemp in 2019 still have a few days left to submit required applications. The deadline to apply for the TDA industrial hemp grower license is at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15.

According to Freeman, applicants who wish to participate in the program must submit an application, license fees and required documentation, including a signed memorandum of understanding. All documents must be completed, and an aerial photograph of the growing area must be submitted as well. Depending on the size of the growing area, license fees can vary anywhere from $250-$350.

There are no minimum or maximum acreage requirements for the hemp program. If an applicant meets the requirements and submits necessary documents, the TDA will work with the applicant to become licensed. Once applicants are approved, licenses will be distributed by March 1, and they will be valid throughout 2019.

“We want all Tennesseans interested in this alternative crop to have the opportunity to participate in our hemp program,” Freeman said. “We also want to encourage those who are growing hemp this year to thoroughly plan their markets, finances and production methods.”

“We want to be a resource for Tennessee farmers interested in growing industrial hemp,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher said. “Just like with other agricultural enterprises, industrial hemp farmers will benefit from exercising due diligence and doing their research before they plant. Producers will be much more likely to find success with this alternative crop if they identify a market and do their homework now.”

With only a few more days remaining in the 2019 application period, TDA has received more than 1,000 grower applications to cultivate up to 4,251 acres of industrial hemp. In 2018, TDA approved 226 industrial hemp applications from producers who were licensed to cultivate up to 4,767 acres.

Tools to assist with this planning, including program reports from previous years and a list of hemp processors can be found at Applications and more information about Tennessee’s hemp program can also be found at that web address.

If you are already an industrial hemp grower, or if you are a potential hemp grower, the local UT extension office can also assist in questions and further information.

Faith Few can be reached at