What’s up with all the buzz around hemp? Is there a future for the hemp crop market? People say that hemp can be turned into anything — from plastic, alternatives to woods, fiber and boards, clothing and rope, even concrete!
I wanted to learn more about this, so traveled to the Lubbock, Texas, area to meet up with the Texas Hemp Growers Association. And, boy, was I impressed!
Here’s an interesting thing about hemp that is often misunderstood. Yes, it is in the “cannabis” family, however it cannot get you high — hemp must have less than or equal to 0.3 percent THC (THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis). If you use the word “hemp,” it’s almost like saying you have a “dog.” There are so many varieties with different THC levels.
Here is a picture of an industrial scale field I got to photograph called “Aleta Compagna.” They also grow a shorter variety called “The Joker.”
This field comes to us from Bingham Family Farms, and it’s planted end of May or June and harvested in September. They do what’s called a “tricrop,” which is for 1. Food, (like seed and protein powder) 2. Fiber, and 3. CBD — and they grow 60 acres of it.
A lot of farms here choose to grow hemp for emerging markets and profitability, and profits is another reason why the family grows certified organic. They like it because it’s swathed and baled and didn’t really require any special equipment to their specific farm and rotation.
The Bingham family is also lucky because they have a nice processing facility nearby. Although I wasn’t able to photograph inside, it was very fascinating! Hemp is similar to bamboo. The inside is called the “hurd,” which is white, and the “bast” are long stranded fibers on the outside. The unique fibers are processed almost like wood chips, and they work with Delta Ag for tons of products — fibers, textiles, bioplastic, toilet paper, and so much more — all of which depends how they treat the cellulose. Their website — https://deltaag.com — is an excellent resource.
Here is a picture of cement made from hemp!
These are some of the biggest challenges behind growing hemp: Is there a local processing facility to actually have a place to sell if you grow it? Do farmers want to grow it or is it too risky? Will banks fund farmers who grow it? Is it legal yet and/or socially accepted (even though it’s not technically a drug)? How about governance, infrastructure, and theft and vandalism to fields? Oftentimes, government still treats hemp like marijuana, despite the fact that they’re quite different.
There are so many factors to think about on this emerging hemp growing marketplace. We shall see how it all unfolds but it is going to require a lot of everyone working together to make it happen! There is a lot of ongoing research nationwide, but specifically in the Lubbock area, groups such as the Texas Hemp Growers Association, numerous universities, the North American Association of Manufacturers, Delta Ag and more are leading the way in research and discovery.
Other challenges revolve around labor, pest pressure, overhead costs, volatility, and more. At Bingham’s, they spend about $150 an acre in hand labor for hoeing alone, and have costs for organic insecticides to control pests like moths and bollworms. In addition, compost, seed, irrigation, and equipment really add up to a marketplace that’s available to them but not always to other growing regions. The good news is that hemp is often vertically integrated, which means the grower has more control over profitability when they grow it for a specific processing area or region — it gives the farmer more control.
Overall though, the industry just needs a lot more funding and power behind it. Hemp is an amazingly versatile crop with a ton of opportunities and can replace plastics and other industry where we wonder — could hemp be a more sustainable option? But also — is it a threat to other industries and thereby shut down by heavy hitting multi-billion dollar competitive entities?
Time will tell. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled to a (hopefully) growing marketplace with new hemp marketing options for growers — slow and steady.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.