EAST PALATKA, Fla. — The door is wide open for a possible new cash crop in Florida, and that's hemp.
Now that it's legal for farmers to grow hemp in the Sunshine State, Jean Sebastian Gros wants to be one of the first farmers to grow it in Palatka.
He was going to grow lettuce on the 30 acre Marineland Aquaponics farm in East Palatka, "but when hemp became available, we shifted our plan to also accommodate hemp," he said.
This spring, the Florida legislature passed a bill allowing Florida farmers to grow hemp.
"Nobody expected Florida to pass a hemp bill so quickly," Gros said.
But he and his business partners have been preparing for that move, and they have big plans already laid out with blueprints.
They will grow hemp and shrimp in one big collaborative way.
"We'll take the waste from the shrimp we'll be growing, and we'll convert that through aquaponics into mineral nutrients that will feed both lettuce and hemp in our greenhouses," Gros said.
He said he will be growing hemp to eat, for its oil extraction for CBD oils and for "nutraceutical and pharmaceutical channels," and he will grow hemp as starter plants for other farmers.
"We have neighbors who grow cabbage, and potatoes and sod around us," Gros pointed to farms around him. And we're in talks with them about expanding."
Gros said there are still some things that have to happen at the state level before he can start growing hemp in this soon-to-be greenhouses. He will then get a license and expects to be growing in the fall.
Many other farmers may follow in his footsteps because hemp is expected to be Florida's next cash crop, helping the struggling farmer with a product that's gaining in popularity.
"This is a game changer, not just for us, but for all farmers around here that are going to be participating in this," he said.