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Planting for the future

Hartford farmer grows 2 1/2 acres of hemp

Steve Kacerski of Hartford, stands among 2.5 acres of hemp he planted on land he owns and farms in Pennsylvania just over the Ohio border. Kacerski cut down the plants over the weekend and will let them lay for the next couple weeks tlll they are ready to bale.

HARTFORD — Standing in a hemp field on just the other side of the Ohio / Pennsylvania line, the instantly recognizable and pungent odor of cannabis was hardly noticeable except when the wind blew exactly right.

That’s when you could smell it, but the scent was fleeting and not overpowering.

The 2.5-acre plot of land is among 90 or so acres Steve Kacerski owns and farms in western Pennsylvania, a few minutes away from his home in Hartford. The tallest of the plants last week came up to about the shoulders of Kacerski, who stands 6-foot-4.

Over the weekend, the plants were mowed to the ground, where they’ll stay for the next two to four weeks to ret, a natural process to separate the fiber from the stem. After that, the plants will be baled like hay and stored for sale.

It was Kacerski’s entry into growing hemp, done in partnership with DON Recovery Inc. of New Castle, Pa., which made arrangements to provide the seed to Kacerski and a handful of other farmers in the program. It was developed as an agricultural revitalization initiative to help improve the sector’s and region’s economy.

Each farmer was given two kinds of seeds — Felina 32, a French variety, and Bialobrzeskie, a Polish variety. Both are grown for the plant’s fiber, which many in the industry see has the potential for huge growth because for its many industrial uses, from rope to paper to clothing to building materials.

The plants are not marijuana and contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gets people high.

Kacerski, who grows wheat, soybeans and corn on about 900 acres in Trumbull County and western Pennsylvania, dedicated the small patch of land that otherwise would have been used for corn or soybeans. Cornfields surround the hemp field, acting as a protective barrier of sorts from homes near the road.

It’s worth the risk of loss of other crops, he said. Also, when he sold seed, he had test plots, so to remove land from generating cash is something he is used to and willing to do.

He planted June 12. The first farmer to plant was on May 31.

“It’s obviously been a learning experience, but it’s gone well,” said Kacerski, who had the advantage of learning from mistakes growers in DON’s program made last year.

When Ohio lawmakers legalized hemp in July 2019, Kacerski had an interest in growing the floral variety, which is what is used to produce the popular CBD, or cannabidiol extracts, now used in food and dietary supplements.

He had contacts in that segment of the industry, but they went elsewhere, he said, because rules and regulations in Ohio were not ready. In addition, the CBD market was flooded, resulting in a lot of farmers “stuck holding the bag,” he said.

To avoid the same happening to him, he went the fiber direction and connected with DON through another farmer.

DON is paying him rent for the land. His cost is his time and labor to tend to the crop.

“I didn’t do it with plans to get rich and make a lot of money, but in terms of being an alternative crop that may have potential down the road, the sooner we start learning about it, it may be more beneficial in the future,” Kacerski, 43, said.

Lori Daytner, vice president of program development with DON, said hemp from two of the farms has been harvested. The hemp will be kept in storage until a buyer is found.

“We don’t expect that to happen this year,” Daytner said. “This year was focused on let’s get learning done.

“It can be stored for quite a long time, so there is no hurry that it has to be sold now,” she said.

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