Is There Still Hope for Industrial Hemp?
In the 17th century, the King James Bible was printed on hemp paper. The Declaration of Independence was also drafted on hemp paper. George Washington encouraged farmers to grow hemp saying, “Sow it everywhere.” Thomas Jefferson called hemp “one of the greatest and most important substances of our nation.” For over 150 years, farmers could pay federal taxes with hemp.
In the late 1800s, many families kept a small bottle of cannabis oil in their medicine cabinets to alleviate various ailments. Fast forward to the 20th century and Henry Ford’s hemp car. Although not entirely made of hemp, it was indeed powered by a diesel type engine that ran on hemp oil squeezed from hemp seeds.
But there was another use of hemp that emerged in the early 1900s that caused this multi-use crop to draw the ire of the federal government — marijuana.
Tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabinoid associated with marijuana. When smoked or consumed, hemp strains with elevated THC levels cause a psychoactive effect commonly known as getting “high.” THC levels in marijuana plants can be over 15%. Hemp has many other cannabinoids, the most familiar being cannabidiol.
Due to this small subsample of the hemp plant family with elevated levels of THC, hemp was considered a drug and was essentially banned by the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. A helpful analogy would be that it’s like banning paper because it’s used to roll cigarettes.
Other forces were in cahoots with banning hemp as well. Industries such as textiles, pulp and the emerging pharmaceutical corporations fell into lockstep with the government as they felt threatened by all the benefits hemp had to offer for small scale farmers and those who wanted to grow their own medicine.
Hope on the Horizon
For the past 20 or so years, various groups and organizations have petitioned politicians in an effort to bring this plant back to the fields where it once thrived. In the years 2000 and 2001, I cooperated with Penn State University and the Lancaster County Farm Bureau by growing research plots of fiber crops such as flax, kenaf and sun hemp in an effort to showcase the benefits of fiber crops. But we were ahead of our time, as the political climate was not conducive to move forward with legalization of fiber-type hemp.
However, little by little, momentum grew and in December of 2018 the Farm Bill opened up the opportunity of growing hemp as long as it tested below 0.3% THC. This ultra-low percentage of THC ensured that psychoactive effects would be impossible. CBD was in very high demand due to its popular use for alleviating pain, inflammation and as a sleep aid. It was also realized that pets and horses could benefit as well.
Prices rolled out to farmers in the spring of 2019 were astronomical — $30,000 or more profit per acre. Euphoria ensued and thousands of acres of CBD hemp were planted across the nation. But the infrastructure was all but nonexistent and the worst-case scenarios became reality as prices plunged below the cost of production.
To this day, that is still the case. Fewer acres of CBD hemp were planted this past year, yet interest in fiber, seed and textile type hemp is beginning to gather momentum. This type of hemp seems to be the bright spot now, but there still is significant infrastructure that needs to be built and maintained.
In spite of the legalization to grow hemp, lack of clarity and common-sense rules that farmers have been used to in growing other crops is frustrating. The banking system still has not cleared a pathway for entrepreneurs to borrow money to invest in infrastructure to make hemp products.
The FDA is dragging its feet in coming out with guidelines for retail sales of CBD-related goods. Could it be they are beholden to “big pharma,” which feels threatened by citizens growing their own medicine? Even the most popular social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are not allowing smaller hemp-related businesses to advertise. My own personal Facebook pages have been banned from promoting the benign hemp maze we debuted this year — they said it violated their drug policy standards.
Harvesting the Potential
All that being said, I’m still a believer that hemp has a bright future, because I know we can grow it and I know there will be greater demand as more people learn about its many uses.
Education is key as there are now several generations who don’t know about the many uses this plant has to offer. I intend to do what I can to promote regenerative methods of growing hemp and to share the potential of using this renewable resource to solve many of this planet’s challenges.
I’m hopeful the federal government will provide a roadmap to making hemp great again. But I’m a realist and hope is not a strategy. My business approach is to continue to learn all I can about growing, processing and marketing hemp while finding the niche that capitalizes our strengths.
So yes, I believe there still is hope for hemp for those who have the tenacity to persevere and navigate the challenges of a promising industry.
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on https://www.lancasterfarming.com/farming/industrial_hemp/is-there-still-hope-for-industrial-hemp/article_5041db3e-3360-11ec-ab2d-7fa677defa07.html