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US (NY): From strawberries to cannabis

Tony Weiss farms the same East Eden fields that his grandfather bought nearly 100 years ago.

First they had dairy cows, and in the 1950s the farm switched to vegetables, like corn, watermelon, peppers and tomatoes, as well as their mainstay, strawberries.

But Weiss, who doesn't mind a challenge and likes growing different produce – he has two quince trees – has a new crop on his strawberry fields: hemp.

Other farmers in the area are trying out the new crop, too, right across from their corn and squash fields.

The plants are 5 feet tall, and as big around and as green as a Christmas tree. Weiss farms has 125 acres, and is growing hemp on 60 acres this year.

"Oh, my father would be rolling in his grave if he knew I did this," Weiss, 79, said.

But New York State is hoping hemp, otherwise known as cannabis, will reinvigorate the agriculture industry. The state's Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program expanded in 2017 from educational institutions to include private farms and businesses. Last year nine farms in Western New York had permits to grow the plant. So far this year, there were 20 permits issued in Erie County, and nearly 500 statewide.


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