The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved Florida’s hemp program bringing the total approved by the agency to 16. The state is set to begin accepting industry applications today.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the approval gives the state’s agriculture industry “a new alternative crop for many years to come” as the Sunshine State deals with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“After months of incorporating feedback from the public, growers, and industry stakeholders, we are thrilled that Florida’s hemp industry officially begins now. I thank the USDA for their swift review and approval of our state hemp program. By working closely with our farmers, processors, retailers, and consumers, Florida’s state hemp program will become a model for the nation, will set a gold standard for this emerging industry, and will create billions in economic opportunity for Florida.” – Fried in a statement

According to the agency, the USDA approval took less than a week.

Jeff Greene, co-founder of the Florida Hemp Council, told Hemp Grower that while there are many opportunities for prospective hemp farmers – such as CBD, fiber, and grain production – the industry is “trying to establish itself.”

“For the longest time, it was every man out for themselves, survival of the fittest,” Greene said in the report. “I’ve seen with the collaboration of the Florida Hemp Council board and members that the industry is starting to see itself as a real industry – not just a cutthroat, first-come, first-served. That’s what we’ve been pushing.”

Greene said that with 16 state approvals there will be a “bump in supply” but “with shadowbanning … difficulty in export,” and the pandemic, there is “a limitation in demand.”

Under the state’s rules, there are no application fees for hemp cultivation licenses, but the process requires applicants to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check. Individuals convicted of a drug-related felony over the last 10 years are not eligible for a permit.

Programs from three states and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still listed as “under review,” according to USDA data. Another 18 states will keep operating under their 2014 pilot programs, while just two are pending resubmission to the agency. The USDA has also approved hemp programs for 20 Native American tribes.