America’s Hemp Hotspots
With a considerable head start, Colorado and Oregon are the leading hemp producers in the U.S., but New York and Kentucky are making a bid to contend.
“Nothing stays the same save eternal change” wrote an English poet who had no idea there would be a pandemic in 2020.
But his message was prescient in the fact that COVID-19 has impacted businesses worldwide and in the case of the hemp and cannabis industries, totally derailed many of the big plans to take the fledgling to more solid ground. Layoffs and restructurings became the order of the day while assets were sold off to raise working capital.
Initially, consumers worried about access stockpiled essentials like cannabidiol (CBD) as part of a daily wellness routine. Product was available as hemp and CBD production came under the federal government’s critical infrastructure category. That “buy now” panic has slacked off and CBD businesses are back hurting like many others with cancelled trade shows and reduced sales.
The once-dizzying variety of CBD-infused products and hemp derivatives can still be found although the more than 3,500 CBD brands in existence at the beginning of this year are expected to be whittled down some in a recessionary economic climate created by the coronavirus.
Prior to that shoe dropping, hemp’s growth graph was drawing the attention of entrepreneurs, policymakers, and financial backers with several states leading in the race to provide proper product to manufacture CBD, cannabinol (CBN), and cannabigerol (CBG) for oils, foods, and beverages as well as textiles and myriad other products. To date, researchers have identified more than 25,000 uses for hemp and, more optimistically, many uses are still unknown. Researchers estimate what is grown now will only meet about two percent of potential global demand.
Hemp in Colorado
Colorado, among the early candidates to legalize recreational cannabis, is also a contender for front-runner status among hemp growers. Legalized by voters in 2012, the industry quickly became operational with few limitations on how much hemp could be produced. Recent numbers indicate more than 12,000 open-field acres with 2.3 million square feet under glass.
The Colorado Agriculture Department, coordinators of industrial hemp efforts in the Rocky Mountain state, is pro-industry and works with, instead of against, hemp farmers. The number of hemp farmers has grown from an initial 100-plus to nearly 2,000 with almost all of Colorado’s 64 counties registering a hemp operation benefitting the state’s soil, elevation, and climate.
The initial, overwhelming, positives — from looser regulations to higher prices — led to the planting of tens of thousands of new acres of hemp until the realization came that too much of a good thing wasn’t always a good thing. Prices plummeted from around $40 a pound to a quarter of that amount with a lot of biomass still in storage.
(Read also: Foolproof Hemp Cloning)
Industry pundits jumped on the slump in the growth curve noting that success comes at a price. That price is falling for growers along with ongoing headaches finding places to sell all the hemp Colorado is cultivating among the seven varieties of certified hemp seeds.
Average hemp farm yields run about 1,500 pounds per acre and in many cases, much higher, meaning that what doesn’t sell goes into storage and there’s a lot of biomass tucked away.
Among the issues, although Colorado has more hemp businesses than any other state, fiber processors are nearly non-existent, and CBD extractors are too few.
Currently in process is a bill signed by the governor and submitted to the USDA, a Colorado Hemp Management Plan that will align state statutes with federal law including things like a certified seed program and a provision for 100 percent testing for all crop lots. Approval is anticipated post-harvest this year, sometime around November 1.
Hemp in Oregon
In the Northwest, Oregon hemp farmers also have friends in the Department of Agriculture, business-friendly support that has aided in tremendous amounts of product being grown since its legalization in 2009, despite the fact that the first actual license to cultivate didn’t come until 2015.
Industry growth there has been exponential. From a mere 7,800 acres in 2018, acreage is now up to more than 50,000, an increase of more than 500 percent in just a couple of years. While numbers fluctuate, the register of growers, along with processors and seed farmers, has moved well into the four-figure column.
Current figures, provided by Andrea Cantu-Schomus of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, show some 1,600 licensed growers in the state. Testing consistency remains a big concern because many of those growers are new and inexperienced.
(Read also: Growing Healthy Hemp Plants)
The largest hemp research organization in the U.S., the Global Hemp Innovation Center, has opened its doors there, conducting research in 10 locations across the state. Oregon is also one of the few states that permit the sale of all hemp products.
At a 2019 hemp farmer roundtable, event host Senator Ron Wyden, a leader in the legislation legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill, noted: “We’ve got the leadership to tap the incredible potential for hemp growth in Oregon and as is a tradition in our state, we can be a trailblazer addressing the issues.”
Hemp in New York & Kentucky
Also in the running, but far behind Colorado and Oregon, are New York and Kentucky. New York’s application forms are straightforward and the application fee is nominal, leaving New York hemp growers with an advantage over farmers in other states because they keep some things in-house. While hemp farmers there are allowed to sell product anywhere, manufacturers of cannabinoid product derived from hemp, things like tinctures, pills, topicals, and the like may not produce product with anything but hemp grown in-state.
Also ahead of its time, New York funded an Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program some five years ago that allows educational institutions to grow and research industrial hemp in places like Cornell University, which is now offering seed to farmers.
Kentucky, once home to Big Tobacco, has been looking for another money-making product, legalizing hemp farming in 2013.
Outdoor acreage is growing through the efforts of some 200 growers and processors. Politicians are on board too as Senate President Mitch McConnell signed the legalization legislature with a pen made from hemp.