An expert panel outlined the politics, agronomics and economics of industrial hemp at a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention. Federally outlawed for more than 50 years, industrial hemp is making a comeback.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), a staunch supporter of hemp as an agricultural crop, explained how he helps people understand the difference between hemp and its more infamous cannabis cousin, marijuana.
“Hemp and marijuana are two plants in the same family, the same way that broccoli and cauliflower are in the same plant family,” Comer said.
Ken Anderson, founder and president of Legacy Hemp, the leading U.S. contractor with hemp farmers, strongly advised anyone who is considering growing the crop to first secure a buyer.
“There are a lot of opportunities but it can be expensive to start growing hemp,” Anderson said. He credited Farm Bureau’s advocacy with playing a key role in the recognition of industrial hemp as a legitimate farm crop.
Calling industrial hemp “the little engine that could,” Katie Moyer of Kentucky Hemp Works discussed the broad range of hemp varieties and advised farmers to carefully consider which one to cultivate. “The crops are completely different” she said, referring to varieties grown for cannabidiol oil vs. fiber, grain, seed, etc.
The availability of labor should also be carefully considered when thinking about growing hemp, according to Anderson.
“Hemp grown for CBD uses is much more labor-intensive,” he said, referring to those varieties as a horticultural crop while others are agricultural crops. In addition, he recommends farmers starting out with hemp add it to their crop rotation, rather than growing it as their only crop.
The 2014 farm bill gave states the authority to establish hemp pilot programs to study its growth, cultivation and marketing. To date, 35 states have taken advantage of the opportunity. The 2018 farm bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. This deregulation benefits growers, who may now transport hemp and no longer face barriers related to insurance, banking, etc.