Researchers in Central Florida perfecting Hemp production

CBD oil is increasingly available for Florida consumers. You can buy it at the grocery store, pet stores, and even some gas stations.

Now, Florida is trying to cash-in on the growing industry, and it all starts inside some Apopka greenhouses where researchers from the University of Florida are trying to learn how to grow the perfect hemp to keep up with the CBD craze.

UF started growing hemp at its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka in April as part of its industrial hemp pilot program. The goal is to perfect production before growers across the state do it themselves.  Roger Kjelgren is one of the lead scientists on the research. He says just because hemp grows successfully in California and Colorado, doesn’t mean it will in Florida.

Four hundred hemp plants grow inside the greenhouses at UF's Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.

“It needs certain a number of hours in the day to stay growing vegetatively before it flowers,” said Kjelgren, the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center director.

Then, of course, there’s the pesky Florida heat.

“It’s hot, humid, so that brings so many more diseases and insects,” Kjelgren said.

Temperature and sunlight are huge factors in the growth of these temperamental plants, and that’s why researchers say there is still so much work that needs to be done.

“Where should they be grown? Is what the business selling the grower, the seed, is it legitimate? Are those seeds going to perform?” said UF Industrial Hemp Pilot Project Oversight Manager Jerry Fankhauser.

Those are just some of the questions researchers are trying to answer.

They’re also starting weekly tests to make sure that as the plant grows, the THC levels stay below .3 percent. If there’s too much THC, it’s no longer legal hemp but illegal marijuana. That’s why researchers say the plant seeds must come from certified sources.

Governor Ron DeSantis legalized hemp in Florida this summer. The Federal Farm Bill, signed last year, means farmers in Florida may be able to get permits to grow it as soon as next year, forcing scientists to fast-track their research.

“We’d really like to have another year or two to look at this,” Fankhauser said.

But that’s not happening because hemp is here, and experts say the demand isn’t letting up anytime soon.  Now, researchers are feverishly working inside the greenhouses to help create the perfect plant.