Hemp provides possibilities for farmers
Plastics, concrete, lumber, fabrics, oil, rope, all these things and more could possibly be made from hemp.
More than 100 people showed up to a conference on growing hemp in Washington, Wednesday, at the Port of Quincy’s conference center. The event was hosted by several agencies, including the Grant County Economic Development Council, the state Department of Agriculture, Washington State University and more.
In 2018, Congress passed the Hemp Farming Act, which removed from hemp from being a Schedule 1 controlled substance and made it legal to farm. Hemp is still being heavily regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and by individual state agencies as well.
Hemp is not the same as marijuana, said Steven Howe, state Department of Agriculture cannabis coordinator. The legal definition of hemp is that it contains less than .3% of delta-9 THC, which is the psychoactive that makes people high. It is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to smoke enough hemp to make you high.
The reason farmers are excited about growing hemp is because of cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, Hemp Northwest Vice President Gregg Gnecco said. Hemp contains a larger concentration of CBD than marijuana.
When hemp was first legalized the demand for CBD was quite high and the farmers fortunate enough to first start growing it were seeing profits of $50,000 an acre, he said.
“Everyone heard those stories and thought if they put the seed in the ground they would get those same returns, but that part of the industry is not moving that quick,” Gnecco said.
The days of those types of profit margins are probably gone, he said.
The other interesting thing about hemp, though, is it is very fibrous and has the potential to be used for all kinds of industrial purposes, Howe said. Before it was made illegal, hemp was often used to make ropes, cloth, paper products and more.
“I see that eventually when the nation and the marketplace is flooded with CBD products and the price starts dropping on that it is going to be like, ‘What other products can be developed from hemp?’” Howe said.
But hemp has received some overhype, said David Gang, Washington State University Institute of Biological Chemistry professor. In particular, the curative properties of CBD have gotten some pushback from the medical community.
CBD oil has been proven to help with certain severe and rare epilepitic conditions, he said. But it also can cause liver damage at certain concentrated doses and has been shown to affect male fertility and sexual performance. It also is probably not an anti-inflammatory.
For these reasons the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has made it illegal to put CBD into food items or market it as a dietary supplement, according to the FDA’s website.
But for those people still interested in growing hemp in Washington there are a few things to consider, Gang said.
The first is that hemp likes good soil, he said. It likes soils that have a neutral pH, which in Washington can be difficult as the soils here tend to be acidic. Hemp also appreciates moisture, dry farming can happen, but it is much better as an irrigated crop.
“It is not a marginal land plant,” Gang said. “It is really a plant that likes good quality soils. You’re going to replace something if you grow it on your farm.”
That being said, hemp grows faster and is more productive than pretty much any other agricultural crop once it gets going, he said. It will take over a field in a short amount of time.
At the moment hemp doesn’t face many threats from disease or pests, but this is probably because it hasn’t been grown as a mono-crop, Gang said. Once it becomes more industrial in scale, those problems will likely follow.
The question still remains in this very young industry, though, of where the market is and where farmers can sell their hemp once its grown, Gang said.
About 95 percent of Washington’s hemp is being grown for CBD, but that is at least in part because no one is manufacturing hemp for anything else yet, Howe said.
Tony Buhr, firstname.lastname@example.org