Ever since Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried appointed Holly Bell in February as the first director of cannabis for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, people have been curious about Bell’s background.
Raised on an Indiana farm, Bell has been working in the cannabis industry for a number of years. She received her bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University and began her career in banking. Eventually, she found herself in the consulting business, where she started working on cannabis business issues.
This isn’t Bell’s first rodeo when it comes to building a brand-new cannabis industry in a state. Following the passage of hemp legislation in Tennessee, she worked to quickly build up the industry there. Now, she hopes to do the same for Florida.
Bell says the budding hemp industry in Florida is already well on its way. The hemp pilot program at the University of Florida is growing the crop at three different locations. She says in a year the program will have gathered some valuable data that will then be used to enhance best management practices and possibly grower manuals.
With all the hype around hemp, many growers are still contemplating whether or not they’ll want to produce the crop once legalities allow them to do so. Bell believes hemp will be an ideal alternative crop in Florida. Hemp does not require extreme amounts of water or chemicals, and studies have shown that the plant is great for soil health. “It’s actually a plant that was planted in Chernobyl after the nuclear meltdowns to help remove the toxins from the soil,” Bell says.
From devastating hurricanes to diseases like citrus greening, Bell believes hemp could be the light at the end of the tunnel for Florida growers struggling to return from major setbacks. She points out that the market for CBD oil, one of the end products from hemp, is growing exponentially.
This is Bell’s first job in government, but she is excited to help Commissioner Fried’s vision of a cannabis industry in Florida come to life. “I came here (to Florida) because I liked the message and the vision of the commissioner. I’ve known her for many years through consulting,” Bell says. “My goal is threefold: implement her vision, help the farmers and consumers, and help the state.”
Growers can meet Bell and hear her speak at two agricultural events coming up, the Vegetable & Specialty Crop Expo (VSC Expo) and the Florida Ag Expo.
VSC Expo will take place Aug. 14–15 at the Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers, Florida. Growers can register and learn more about the event at VSCExpo.com.
Florida Ag Expo will be Nov. 21 at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma, Florida. Registration will be opening soon. Find more information on FloridaAgExpo.net.
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