Move over peanuts, is hemp becoming Georgia’s next big crop?

NORTH GEORGIA — In 2020, Georgia farmers got the OK from state lawmakers to grow hemp legally here for the first time in at least 50 years. The crop was banned because it looks and smells like its illegal sister plant, marijuana.

Georgia farmers must have hemp plants tested to guarantee levels of the psychoactive chemical THC are 0.3% or less.

Blue 42 Organics co-founder Henry Ostaszewski told Channel 2′s Tom Regan the benefits of CBD derived from hemp plants are more than a novelty; they’re life changing.

“We kind of created a lab environment to really create those strains that are going work here in Georgia,” Ostaszewski said. He and his grower, Gus Wilson, are working to develop boutique hemp strands that thrive in our state’s climate.

The former college and pro football player became interested in hemp’s benefits for inflammation and anxiety when his former teammates lost their mobility and even their lives to sports related injuries like CTE.

“We’re not driven by the dollars,” Ostaszewski said. “We’re driven by really creating a really good culture community around hemp here in north Georgia.”

Blue 42 is one of 86 companies now licensed to grow hemp in Georgia.

Ostaszewski said combatting the taboo of growing a crop that looks and smells like an illegal drug may be just as tough as growing the perfect plant.

“We really need people to embrace this because it could really help a lot of our farmers here in Georgia,” he said.

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State agriculture commissioner Gary Black said growing a new crop is hard, with or without the stigma.

“When you have a new commodity, that market finds its way,” Black said.

But he said the biggest hurdle is waiting on federal leaders to weigh in on what to classify the crop.

“Is this a food? Is it an additive? What is it? And we’re still waiting for that guidance from the federal government that would be so helpful,” Black said.

Farmer Barry Smith said the gray area in hemp law concerns him too. He put off retiring from his Bartow County nursery to give growing hemp a try.

Smith said the crop grows a lot like a tomato, but the regulations and stigma couldn’t be more different.

“When you have your own family members and your friends and the people that you go to church with, that you do business with … look at you with that kind of skeptical look, that’s when the education process has to happen,” Smith said.

Smith is also educating farmers he sells his hemp plants to. He’s hired a doctor and financial advisor to ease minds and navigate gray areas in the law.

Smith’s team estimated hemp farmers can make somewhere between $5,000 to $150,000 on an acre of land, and the industry could create four to 6,000 jobs in just two years.

But more important to Smith, hemp could be the key to preserving a way of life.

“We really need for the people of Georgia to realize this is a crop and some of these farmers are trying desperately to save their farm,” Smith said.

Farmers and Commissioner Black hope there is a life for hemp beyond CBD, envisioning how Georgia could become a hub for manufacturing hemp textiles and electric car parts.

Ostaszewski said the versatility for this once-forbidden crop is sky high.

“This used to be a viable industrial product in Georgia, in the nation, and we can get back to that,” Ostaszewski said.

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