For the first time in 80 years, a farm in New York State is legally growing cannabis. But no one could get high from these plants.
The farm, JD Farms, roughly 230 miles north of New York City, is actually growing industrial hemp, which can be used to make everything from flour to building materials to clothes to plastic.
“Industrial hemp and marijuana are actually the same species, but they have bred and evolved to be quite different from each other,” said Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins, a professor of agriculture at Morrisville State College, which has paired with JD Farms on a hemp research pilot program.
Still, industrial hemp remains on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of illegal Schedule I drugs, though its content of THC — the chemical that gets marijuana users high — is below 0.3 percent. Because of that status, JD Farms had to adhere to stringent federal regulations just to get the seeds to grow the crop. “We had to jump through hoops to get a D.E.A. permit to import our seeds from Canada,” Mark Justh, an owner of the farm, said.
Mr. Justh, 51, and Daniel Dolgin, 40, a co-owner, were not always pioneering farmers.
Mr. Justh had already bought a few defunct dairy farms here before his employer, JPMorgan Chase & Company, sent him across the world in 2010.
“I was running a business in Asia for JPMorgan and traveling a lot all over Asia,” he said. “When my two sons were becoming teenagers, I really wanted to travel less and spend a lot more time with my family. As I bought the farms and as we were building them up, I wanted to return full time.”
In 2015, he did. His three sons are now 18, 14 and 13.
“My sons are in school. They work on the farm over the summers. And my wife is a writer,” he said. “They split their time between Park Slope and the farm, and they are up here all summer.”
Mr. Dolgin, who is single, previously worked in counterterrorism and national security in Washington. “I left D.C. around 2010,” he said. “I did some consulting in the private sector, and I wanted to do something different.”
A friend of Mr. Dolgin’s introduced the men. “Mark was looking to get involved in the hemp world,” Mr. Dolgin said, “and I thought I could be of service in terms of navigating regulations and getting stuff done in D.C.”
“I started coming to the farm more and more and starting to fall in love with what he was doing there,” he added.
Mr. Justh said he became interested in hemp while looking for a tall canopy plant with broad leaves and a short growth period that could keep weeds from taking root in his crops. The farm, which covers 1,300 acres, also produces organic hay, pastured pigs and pastured cattle.
“I started off looking at hemp as weed cover,” Mr. Justh said, “and believe it or not, Dan and I partnered together and started recognizing the larger industrial benefits of hemp.”
“We are phenomenally excited to see the benefits of what this crop can do,” he added.
The door to hemp farming — and its economic possibilities — was opened in 2014 when federal legislation allowed for the transportation, processing, sale and distribution of hemp grown in research programs.
“This is not marijuana,” Donna A. Lupardo, a New York assemblywoman for the Southern Tier who sponsored the legislation to allow hemp to be grown in the state, said as she looked over the field during a visit to the farms. “This is not something that can be used recreationally.”
Ms. Lupardo, a Democrat, said she believes hemp “has a really high potential to put farmland back to use in New York State and to also be a very lucrative, potentially lucrative manufacturing crop for our state.”
“In my community alone, there are a million potential acres to be farmed for a number of new crops like industrial hemp,” she said later in a phone interview. “It’s a field of dreams, it really is. It’s just a fabulous opportunity and just a wonderful plant.”
To comply with federal guidelines, JD Farms had to have an armed security guard oversee the seed planting. So it hired an officer from the New York State University Police at Morrisville State College. The officer would have told the D.E.A. if anything had gone wrong, Enrico L. D’Alessandro, the chief of police at Morrisville, said.
“That officer had to stand by there to make sure all the seeds went into the ground,” Mr. D’Alessandro said.
In an interview at the farm, Mr. Dolgin called the requirement “ridiculous for a crop that has no psychotropic value, but we had to do what we had to do.”
Mr. Dolgin and Mr. Justh said they hoped their first crop would pave the way to a quicker process for those who follow.
“Until the laws become more uniform and less gray, for the industry to develop, it’s going to be challenging,” Mr. Justh said. “We believe farmers should be able to grow this crop without a license and be able to obtain seeds across state lines and internationally. Until that happens, industry will struggle to develop.”
As for their 30 acres of hemp, Mr. Dolgin and Mr. Justh said they were looking for customers.
“We don’t have contracts signed yet, but we have a lot of interested buyers,” Mr. Dolgin said. “We are working with a major protein-bar company in Pennsylvania that is interested in using hemp protein to start a few new lines of product into their distribution channel.”
Mr. Dolgin added that a large biomaterial manufacturing company in Albany was interested in buying their stalks. “They currently import ground-up hemp stalks from Europe, so having a New York supply is much more ideal,” he said.