The first year of nationwide cultivation of industrial hemp has been a mixture of retrenchment and optimism for growth in the longer term. "The industry isn't going to go away," said hemp entrepreneur Morris Beegle on Thursday. "It's going to become more of a whole-plant industry."
Two trade groups announced plans to spearhead a discussion across the hemp industry on the creation of a checkoff program to promote industrial hemp, similar to producer-funded checkoffs that boost cotton, milk, and Christmas trees.
The government will allow farmers to destroy "hot" hemp fields themselves, rather than having to hire a contractor to do it, and will expand the number of laboratories that can test industrial hemp for THC levels, said Agriculture Undersecretary Greg Ibach on Wednesday.
Industrial hemp, an infant crop heading for its first year under national regulations, is likely be a small player in the farm sector, with a future like a rodeo ride, said panelists at the Ag Outlook Forum on Thursday. "This is going to be a rough-and-tumble ride," said Tyler Mark, a professor at the University of Kentucky.
Challenges including competition for acreage, the threat of imports, and the necessity of building marketing networks "will determine patterns of development in the emerging U.S. hemp industry," said USDA economists in a report issued Wednesday.
A lot of farmers will give industrial hemp a try this year, the first time cultivation is allowed nationwide, USDA officials predicted on Thursday. But they said there was no way they could allow more THC in hemp despite complaints that the limit of 0.3 percent is so low that some growers will be penalized unfairly for a "hot" crop.
For all its cachet as a potential money-making crop for American farmers, industrial hemp ranked midway between safflower and flaxseed in plantings, with an estimated 230,000 acres in 2019, and industry leaders disagree whether 2020 will be a year of expansion or retrenchment. But the USDA is approving state plans to regulate hemp production and offering crop insurance for hemp growers, steps that could help establish the crop.
For all its Gold Rush aura, hemp farming may be more like life on the frontier, where everything must be built from the ground up, said advocates of industrial hemp on Thursday. Hemp can require a lot of manual labor to keep weeds under control, it’s hard to find processors for the crop, and marketing networks are rudimentary.
At the same time that the agency opened the gate for farmers across the nation to grow industrial hemp in 2020, the USDA tempered optimism about a new, money-making crop on Tuesday with caution of obstacles for an emerging industry. The hottest hemp product, cannabidiol (CBD), is sold in a gray …