An expert panel outlined the politics, agronomics and economics of industrial hemp Jan. 13 at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th annual convention. Federally outlawed for more than 50 years, industrial hemp is making a comeback.
U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, a staunch supporter of hemp as an agricultural crop, shared 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,” Comer explained, “the same way that broccoli and cauliflower are in the same plant family.”
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 of varieties grown for cannabidiol, or CBD, oil versus those grown for fiber, grain or seed.
Anderson noted that would-be growers also should consider the availability of labor. “Hemp grown for CBD use is much more labor-intensive,” he said. He also recommended that new growers make hemp part of a crop rotation rather than their sole 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 done so. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. That deregulation benefits growers, who may now transport hemp and no longer face barriers related to business concerns such as insurance and banking.