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The state Department of Agriculture will select up to 40 farmers to grow hemp next year. File

COLUMBIA — The number of farmers allowed to legally grow hemp in South Carolina is doubling in the second round of a pilot program approved by lawmakers. 

The S.C. Department of Agriculture began taking applications this week from farmers who want to plant the crop in 2019. The deadline is June 29.

A state law, passed last May, allows the agency to choose up to 40 farmers for round two. They will be able to grow hemp on up to 40 acres.

Applicants should know in September whether they've won a permit. 

"We're way ahead this year" in the application process, since it took several months to work out the details after the law passed, agency spokeswoman Sally McKay said Wednesday.   

Many of the 20 farmers selected last December for this year's start-up season will plant next month. First-round farmers must reapply if they want to plant hemp again next year. They include Danny Ford, Clemson University's first national championship football coach, and former state Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston. 

Growers met with agency officials last month to give an update on their progress. Some had "speed bumps" with buying the seeds, which the agency does not provide. It gets involved only if the seeds are coming from another country.

All but one or two bought the seeds from another state, McKay said. 

The agency expects no problem in awarding the maximum 40 permits for 2019. More than 130 people applied to participate in the pilot program's inaugural year.

Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers has said it was tough to narrow the field to 20. 

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Under the law signed by Gov. Henry McMaster, each participant must partner with a university for research.

The experimental program will stay at 40 farmers in the third year. But in the following years, the number of permits will be determined by the agriculture agency and participating universities. 

Hemp growing had been illegal for decades. The ban stemmed from its physical similarity to marijuana, even though hemp has only a small fraction of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Hemp fibers can be made into rope and clothing. Non-psychoactive cannabidiol, known as CBD oil, can also be derived from hemp.  

South Carolina followed Kentucky and Tennessee in launching an industrial hemp program, which was allowed under the 2014 federal farm bill. 

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.