By now just about everybody is aware of the growing cannabis industry. If you’re in a state that has legalized medicinal or recreational use, there’s no doubt that you’ve been exposed to the robust media coverage that lead up to legalization, and if you’re in a state that has yet to legalize, there’s a good chance that the crop is on the forefront of your local politicians’ mind – and maybe yours as well.
While cannabis has hogged the spot light and has seemingly been a glutton for attention, its close relative has patiently waited for its time, and, to the surprise of many, hemp should probably be getting more attention. Cannabis has been an economic blessing for many of the states that have legalized it, but hemp, and its hundreds of uses, has the potential to be an even greater economic game changer.
Hemp has traditionally been one of America’s most important crops, but for political and cultural reasons has since fallen out of favor. While growers flock to obtain the necessary licensing to grow and dispense cannabis, it seems probable that in the near future even more will choose to produce hemp on a commercial scale. While growers have chosen to grow cannabis, they have overlooked a crop that is not only well suited for American growers, but also one that has the potential to bolster and improve American agriculture and provide consumers with a wide range of products that are used every day.
Why Growers Are Overlooking Hemp
Hemp has been one of the longest continuously used crops throughout civilization, and its use here in America began as early as the 1600s. Since it had a wide range of uses and was easy to grow, it quickly became one of the most important crops in early America, and it was a top cash crop that rivaled tobacco. Unfortunately, this was a long time ago, and since then hemp declined into near obscurity – until recently, of course.
The crop’s decline began in the early 1900s when laws were created that prohibited the use of marijuana. During this time hemp began to slowly be grouped with marijuana as part of this movement.
Now seems like an appropriate time to briefly explain how hemp is different from cannabis, and why it really shouldn’t have been made illegal. Cannabis has some undeniable psychoactive effects, so it is understandable why some politicians from nearly a century ago would want to make it illegal, but the high that comes with cannabis is absent with hemp. Hemp is less than 0.3 percent THC, but also has high levels of CBDs. This means it can provide many of the medicinal effects that people are taking advantage of today, while allowing the user to remain completely sober and clear headed.
Hemp was severely affected in 1937 via the Marijuana Tax Act, which made it illegal, and this law is largely why the crop is in the position it is in today. Since then cannabis has flourished in the counter culture and black market, while hemp has not gotten to benefit from the same mystique. This is also why many growers are overlooking the true and undeniable money-making potential of hemp.
Hemp is easy to produce on a commercial scale, because it is well-suited for American climates and many farmers currently growing other crops would be able to introduce hemp into their business with relative ease. Wheat growers in particular seem to be interested in producing hemp, largely because they require similar soil fertility. Both crops require approximately the same amount of supplemental nitrogen, potash and phosphorus. Of course, soil testing is required to examine exactly how much is needed, because the proper nutrient balance is especially important for hemp. Growers that apply too much nitrogen and not enough potash will inevitably deal with broken stalks and useless harvests.
When further comparing hemp to wheat, hemp requires about half the water and has the potential to provide four times the income. The profitability that hemp can provide is hard to overlook and could help many of the country’s struggling agricultural communities.
Overall, hemp is a great option for a number of regions throughout the country. Hemp does not require ample moisture, and it thrives in areas that receive about 10 inches of rain. Some farmers that don’t get the necessary rain can take advantage of the soil’s moisture. By providing ground cover, farmers can reduce evaporation and allow the crop to get the moisture it needs for flowering and seed set. A lack of moisture is going to lead to low yields and poorly developed grain heads. It is also important to note that too much water can lead to an uneven harvest that lacks profitability.
Hemp also grows quickly. Fiber yields will take about 60 to 90 days, while grain is at 110 to 115 days. The crop is sensitive to day length and if it is planted outdoors needs to be planted no later than mid-June. Since hemp grows fast, it naturally reduces weed growth. By three to four weeks the plant is nearly a foot tall and providing significant shade on the ground. The lack of light creates an environment that weeds have difficulty growing in, and planting at least 200 plants per square meter can just about eliminate weed growth. It is also especially hearty and isn’t as susceptible to disease as a lot of other crops.
With so many profitable contracts available for hemp, most growers are going to want to create an operation that can produce year-round. Due to this, a number of growers are choosing to bring operations into a greenhouse. Greenhouse hemp production allows growers to create a completely controlled environment in an energy-efficient structure. They are still able to utilize the sun’s natural light and passively ventilate the structure, but come winter, growers can heat the structure to produce healthy and profitable crops.
Greenhouse production also enables growers to automate a lot of the work that would have to be done manually with an outdoor operation. This reduces labor costs, making the already profitable crop even more profitable.
Hemp is one of the most diverse crops on the planet, and just about every part of the plant can be processed and sold in some capacity. The leaves and flowers are used to extract CBD oils, while the seeds are a rich source of protein and used to produce a number of health products. The plant’s oil is also used in a number of beauty products, and the fiber can make different types of paper and fabric. The plant’s core even has the potential to be used as bio-fuel, and the core is currently used to make some building materials.
Because the entire plant can be used for hundreds – if not thousands – of products, hemp growers find their product in constant demand and have little difficulty obtaining commercial contracts. Many of America’s largest companies use hemp and are opting for it over traditional production materials. For example, the clothing manufacturer Patagonia is making a concerted effort to utilize hemp in many of their clothes.
As growers choose to grow cannabis in order to get into the medicinal market, many hemp growers are finding it easier to start and maintain a thriving business. Hemp growers in Oregon in particular are prospering in the medicinal market by using their crop to produce CBD oil. CBD oil provides many of the medicinal benefits found in marijuana, and since it is oil, it can be used and administered in a lot of ways. It is a natural pain killer and an anti-inflammatory. Its anti-inflammatory properties also make it a great addition to many skin care products.
The use of CBD oil is becoming more popular in helping with chronic health conditions, like epilepsy. On top of that, many are finding it offers help with anxiety and sleep loss. As previously stated, since it is low in THC, CBD oil won’t alter motor skills or impair cognitive function, and it is currently being used by many pregnant women and children.
What really separates hemp from cannabis in its money making potential is that products that utilize hemp are legal in all 50 states, while cannabis is legal in few. On top of that, hemp products can be shipped between all 50 states. This means that while cannabis growers can make money on a limited local level, hemp growers can make money on a national and international scale, making their money-making potential significantly higher.
Hemp growers are also avoiding the drastic fluctuations in the market that many cannabis growers deal with on a regular basis. Every year come fall, the local market is inundated with the summer’s cannabis harvest. This drives the price down, hindering the profitability of nearly every cannabis grower. While prices certainly fluctuate, hemp growers have more opportunity to stabilize their prices and business with long-term contracts that allow them to sell their product at a set price.
Commercial hemp production is a profitable industry that provides many of the benefits of the cannabis industry while eliminating many of the downsides. It’s clear that those who enteed the cannabis production industry may have overlooked the business potential that is found with hemp production. Luckily, many growers will have time to view the market and learn from the mistakes of others while they wait for the production of cannabis and hemp to become legal in their state.
Christopher Machnich is a digital marketing manager and content provider for GrowSpan Greenhouse Structures. His points of interest are hydroponics and greenhouse production, as well as the cultural and economic impact of cannabis legislation. You can visit their website at GrowSpan.com.