Hemp Agriculture: Growing Hemp In The USA

Hemp agriculture was federally legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, and with it has come an explosion in interest in the often misunderstood plant. CBD gets quite a large portion of the headlines, but there are countless industrial uses for hemp that may surprise many. From hemp fuels to clothing to food applications, the demand for hemp is expected to grow by leaps and bounds. Following many decades of Federal prohibition, the 2014 Farm Bill opened the door just slightly to hemp farmers, allowing those farmers who operated in legal states to cultivate hemp. In just a few short years, the acres dedicated to growing hemp expanded from essentially zero to nearly 75,000 acres. With federal legalization of hemp products, the hemp agriculture industry in the United States may be poised for substantial growth.

Where Is Hemp Grown?

A characteristic that makes hemp an exciting crop for farmers is its ability to grow and thrive in almost any climate. All fifty states are capable of supporting industrial hemp agriculture, although there are still substantial challenges which are impeded growth.One of the largest speed bumps which is slowing the growth of the hemp agricultural industry is inaction by state governments to put regulations in place for cultivation. Each state must individually set rules and regulations around who can grow hemp plants, and under what conditions. As of 2018, 41 states have legalized the production of hemp. Idaho, South Dakota, Iowa, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and New Hampshire remain the holdout states. Of those states that do allow for cultivation, some are still rolling the programs out and have extremely limited active acreage. Colorado, Montana, Kentucky, and Oregon lead the pack as the states who are producing the lion’s share of American hemp. Montana and Colorado are far and away the leaders, with 22,000 acres and 21,000 acres respectively. Analysts expect that North Carolina and New York could very well rise to be leaders as well, with Iowa poised to be a third when regulations and permitting rules are finalized.

What Is The Hemp Agriculture Process?

The seeds used for planting industrial hemp currently pose are in limited supply currently, which present a substantial challenge to farmers. For now, the majority of seeds used are being sourced from Canada and Europe, and this in and of itself poses a new challenge. Farmers are not able to know how well the seeds are acclimated to various latitudes and longitudes thus requiring a period of trial and error with their harvests.

Farmers approach growing hemp differently, depending upon the end use case for the plant. Hemp plants intended for use in CBD products are grown in much smaller densities and tended to as individual plants. Between 1,000 and 1,600 plants are grown per acre for CBD purposes. This contrasts starkly with hemp destined for use in industrial capacities, such as fuel, plastics or clothing. Industrial hemp is grown much more similarly to other commodity crops, with a planting rate of 400,000 per acre.

Plants grown for CBD purposes are harvested whole, with plants and stems being used towards to final manufacturing process of CBD oil. Industrial hemp is harvested more traditionally, with the tops of the plant being harvested for seeds, and the remainder harvested toward the manufacturing of a multitude of end products.

What Is The Future of Hemp Agriculture?

There are significant hurdles to overcome. Opportunities for hemp products to disrupt traditional plastics, fuels and other industrial applications, as well as the rising consumer interest in CBD oil point towards a demand for agricultural hemp that cannot be ignored. As more and more states enact regulations to allow for farmers to grow hemp, it is expected that the current 75,000 acres of hemp cultivation could grow drastically. The largest instigator of this growth will be innovation, as more applications for hemp derived industrial products reach the mainstream.

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