Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture visits Rodale Institute

Rodale Institute welcomed Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding to the farm for a tour of our Industrial Hemp Research Project and Organic Hog Facility.

“Anytime that you bring a person like Secretary Russell Redding to the Institute, it’s always a gold star for our work,” said Ross Duffield, farm manager of Rodale Institute. “It shows how unique of a place the Institute really is. Most farmers do not get the opportunity to have the Secretary of Agriculture visit their property and spend an hour talking about their work.”

In 2017, Rodale Institute’s Industrial Hemp research project was one of 16 projects that received a permit for the inaugural planting of hemp in Pennsylvania in more than 80 years. Hemp seeds have finally taken root again in American soil.

“Before hemp production was banned in the U.S., hemp was grown and marketed for a tremendous variety of uses. In the decades since, Pennsylvania has missed out on valuable economic opportunities. We’re hopeful that these research projects spur the return of a promising crop and decreased dependence on imports,” said Secretary Redding.

Rodale Institute is conducting a three-year research project that focuses on using industrial hemp as a cash or cover crop to address weed pest issues and enhance soil health in organic agriculture. The two field trials, a Variety Trial and a Weed Suppression Trial, will help to identify which varieties of hemp will be most effective for future use by farmers. In the Variety Trial, researchers aim to find which types of hemp grow best in a Mid-Atlantic climate and produce the most amount of fiber. The Weed Suppression Trial will analyze how farmers can best compete against weeds by using hemp as a rotational crop rather than tillage.

“Thanks to the federal Farm Bill and Governor Tom Wolf’s bipartisan work with the General Assembly, we now have the chance to re-establish this promising crop in Pennsylvania. Projects like this showcase hemp’s viability and potential to boost the vitality of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry,” said Secretary Redding.

Secretary Redding viewed the progress of Rodale Institute’s hemp growth thus far. The plot of farmland dedicated to growing hemp is just over an acre. There are several varieties on-site including: Santhica 27, a variety based out of France, and Ankara from Canada.

“To have interest and support on a government level for the industrial hemp research projects throughout Pennsylvania is very satisfying,” said Duffield.

Secretary Redding also toured Rodale Institute’s innovative Organic Hog Facility, designed to meet the needs of both the animals and farmers. The Organic Hog Facility demonstrates how to increase hog production quantity, maintaining a high quality of life for the animals, while also reducing labor.

“When it comes to organic production, we are helping to provide more farmers with a model that they can emulate. This model will allow for more farmers to participate in the marketplace and not less,” said Duffield.

Rodale Institute’s model is designed so that farmers can scale the facility to size based on their needs. Inside the hoop house structure, there are eleven bedded stalls that are equipped with a feeder and two frost-proof waterers helping to reduce labor. Each stall has side openings that provide 24/7 access to large outdoor pastures.

Outside the facility, the hogs have access to land that is planted with crops like peas, oats and grasses. Planting seed for hogs to forage reduces the amount of grain keeping feed costs low.

“Our system harnesses the best qualities of the intensive grazing of a homestead operation with the reduced labor of a confinement operation. In the end, we are promoting animal welfare, reducing labor on the farm, and creating a superior product that the consumer will enjoy,” said Duffield.

Rodale Institute was honored to have the opportunity to showcase two of their current projects on the farm to the head of the state’s Department of Agriculture. As a well respected individual of the agriculture community, Secretary Redding’s visit to Rodale Institute demonstrates his commitment to growing Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry.

“His visit shows the support we have from our state government. The fact that he took the time to check out our projects and really understand what we are all doing here at Rodale Institute is meaningful for all of us,” said Tara Caton, research technician.

This is a guest post by Communications Intern Amanda Bialek.

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