Farmers have a lot of questions about hemp, so we asked expert Michael Bowman, founding chair of the National Hemp Association, to answer a few.
SF: WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF HEMP?
MB: Hemp was poised to be a billion-dollar crop in the 1930s with Henry Ford a big supporter, but the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 killed the growth of the industry. We had a brief respite during WWII with the Hemp for Victory campaign, in which we grew hundreds of thousands of acres in six Midwestern states, but the tax was reenacted after the war. Then in 1970, President Nixon included hemp in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act as his middle finger to the anti-war people.
SF: WHAT IS THE STATUS TODAY?
MB: In 2013, on the heels of Colorado being the first state to legalize industrial hemp, I wrote the language for Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, a provision that grants U.S. farmers the right to cultivate hemp in states where production is legal. Since that time, we’ve grown the industry from basically zero to 75,000 acres of hemp permitted in 2018.
SF: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CBD AND TRADITIONAL HEMP?
MB: CBD is an extract from the female plant that is a popular dietary supplement. The oil has an omega profile almost identical to fish oil. You grow those female plants much like you would a marijuana plant, with the difference being the amount of THC [active ingredient of cannabis]. It’s like O’Doul’s and Guinness. The CBD plant is nearly void in THC.
There is a lot of energy being put into the CBD space right now, both money and human capital. It reminds me of the internet craze in the late 1990s when money was flowing to ventures that may or may not be successful. The profit margins in the CBD world have been significant and may remain robust for several years. Like any other thing we raise in the U.S., it will be a commodity at some point. I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg on demand. Those of us who have used CBD oil or have family members who have used it have seen some pretty amazing health responses. We are going to have a significant market demand that can’t be met yet by domestic production.
The second lane in the industrial hemp world, the traditional side, will be the mainstream agricultural side. Industrial hemp is going to be grown for food, feed, fuel, building materials, and more.
SF: WHERE DO YOU SEE THIS INDUSTRY IN FIVE YEARS?
MB: I hope we will see acreage reach that million range. If we are going to do textiles and bioplastics, we need that scale. I think hemp protein will become an aggressive competitor to soybean protein. It’s being used in animal agriculture around the world. Colorado State University is doing studies on beef and chickens.
Farmers are looking for ways to diversify and create new markets. Hemp produces high-quality oil and protein products, plus we get the bonus of textiles. We produce fiber, oil, and protein. There is a growing consumer market, even a preferential market, for hemp-derived products. If we make the necessary investments in infrastructure to grow these acres, I am convinced the market demand is there for a hemp-based suite of products.
SF: BESIDES SUPPLY, WHAT IS HOLDING UP THE INDUSTRY?
MB: We must get insurance and banking in place. The banking community is still not really sure about this. We are not going to get out of the gate without having those problems solved. The farm bill instructs risk-management agencies to get an insurance product in place. So, the insurance piece needs to be solved and we need to make the banking world comfortable.
Published in Successful Farming (Author Betsy Freese 1/17/2019)