Off a dusty dirt road in northern Sumter County, an experiment unprecedented in South Carolina is taking place.
In between rows of okra and corn, small hemp plants struggle to stay alive among encroaching weeds in the sandy Midlands soil. Most are losing the fight.
But in one section, 4-foot-tall plants stretch above the weeds, spreading their many fingered leaves to the heavens. And farmer Nat Bradford, famous for his organic collards and watermelons, has begun to nurse these survivors to higher heights.
“This year, it’s all about genetics,” Bradford said. “What we are doing is natural selection. We stress (the plants) first to see which survive, then cultivate the best.”
Bradford last year was one of the first 20 farmers to receive permits to cultivate the state’s first hemp crop since the General Assembly approved a pilot program last year. Those farmers can grow up to 20 acres of the crop.
This year, 162 farmers have signed up to try to land one of an additional 20 permits the state is making available. This time the permits, to be awarded in mid-September, allow 40 acres to be cultivated. [Read more at The State]