Industrial Hemp Farms in the US: What You Should Know

31st May 2021

A number of young Americans are now switching career paths. Instead of more conventional careers, they now own and run thriving industrial hemp farms. But what brought about this change?

Well, it could be down to cannabis' rise to popularity. Commonly known as the “green rush”, it seems that everyone wants a slice of the pie. With more American states moving to legalise cannabis and hemp, industrial hemp farms are a lucrative career option.

Today at Candid, we'll explore this phenomenon. We'll also tell you why hemp farms are so popular. Plus, we've got all the information on how young farmers make the most of the green rush.

Why Industrial Hemp Farms, Exactly?

A hemp farm might seem like a strange option, especially for a first-time farmer. However, more young farmers now grow and tend to this controversial crop. According to Asaud Frazier, a hemp farmer and expert in plant and soil sciences, it all comes down to hemp's practicality.

Hemp grows fairly easily in most climates. It's also highly in-demand, so hemp farmers can expect a tidy profit with each harvest. Because of this, Frazier says, there's no sense in growing anything else.

In 2017, the Census of Agriculture noted a significant rise in farmers below age 35. As of March 2021, statistics showed that the American hemp industry is worth $27.72 billion and that it'll only grow from strength to strength. Based on this observation, industrial hemp farms seem to be the most lucrative option.

This could be due to CBD, or cannabidiol. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it could treat a multitude of health conditions. This, coupled with developing research, has catapulted CBD into the spotlight.

Therefore, the demand for CBD has increased, contributing to the green rush. In fact, this has resulted in a surge in industrial hemp farming. Acres grew from 78,000 in 2018 to 285,000 in 2019, and it's only expected to expand.

Is Industrial Hemp Farming Really That Easy?

Given the popularity of both CBD and hemp, the green rush seems foolproof. However, Shawn Lucas, an industrial hemp specialist, says it might not be as easy as these young farmers think. Before setting up their own industrial hemp farms, young farmers face constant hurdles.

For example, many of them don't have enough agricultural experience or knowledge. This can result in poor crops or crops that don't make it to harvest. Because of this, these young farmers can often find themselves in financial trouble, as they struggle to break even.

Additionally, there can be a number of other challenges. These include financial difficulties and trouble securing bank loans.

Here, many young people open industrial hemp farms out of pocket. However, they often find themselves in a deficit without proper farming knowledge. This also makes it difficult for them to buy land to farm the hemp itself.

Furthermore, there's a lack of proper planning. This results in young farmers coming up against the fierce competition in a saturated market.

There's also the environmental factor. Starting an industrial hemp farm requires a large amount of effort.

Due to the pressure to increase or keep up production, young farmers could turn to chemicals and pesticides to grow healthy crops. According to the Centre for Food Safety, this results in hemp saturated with harmful chemicals and additives.

Help From Higher Powers

Thankfully, these young farmers don't have to go through this alone. Many of them receive help from higher powers — in the shape of higher education institutions.

The Kentucky State University jokingly refers to hemp as the “gateway crop”, due to how it's inspired young people to start industrial hemp farms. In fact, KSU now works to interest young people in farming. Some faculties teach various hemp-related topics, helping students understand the crop, its biology, and farming basics.

These universities understand the challenges that young industrial hemp farmers face. However, by extending a helping hand, and by sharing crucial information, these universities could bring about more sustainable industrial hemp farming practices.

Encouraging Sustainable Industrial Hemp Farming

Generally, many young farmers try to utilise sustainable farming practices. However, nobody knows how long the CBD boom will last. Therefore, time is limited and a number of this demographic could attempt to cut corners.

Furthermore, there are no approved pesticides for hemp farming, with the Environmental Protection Agency declining to approve any chemicals. Due to this, any use of pesticides in industrial hemp farming could reflect negatively on the entire community. Therefore, the Center for Food Safety helps to keep an eye on industrial hemp farms.

According to the CFS, in a study of about 40 CBD companies, almost half failed the Hemp CBD Scorecard. Many companies were transparent about sourcing their ingredients and their production process. However, a number of others relied on chemicals at various stages of production and manufacturing.

Thankfully, organisations like First Crop, a public benefit company, exist. This organisation (and ones like it) attempt to encourage regenerative hemp farming. They also strive to support hemp farmers throughout the process.

There are also organisations such as Third Wave Farms. As a farmer himself, Mike Lewis, its founder, knows his way around industrial hemp farms. Apart from its farming and processing activities, Third Wave Farms works to educate farmers about growing hemp.

According to Mike Lewis, more often than not, young farmers want to capitalise off the green rush. However, many of them don't have the expertise to successfully launch their new venture.

Additionally, given that hemp is a fairly new crop, finding the latest information and developments can be tough. Thankfully, with these organisations, young hemp farmers can now avail of support in multiple forms. Sharing hemp-related knowledge regarding crops, farming, production, and legal advice could lead to higher industrial hemp farm success rates.

But Isn't Hemp Rather Controversial?

Given that hemp belongs to the cannabis sativa family, it is indeed a fairly controversial crop. In fact, it's taken years to reach this legal standpoint, where industrial farmers can now grow and cultivate hemp. While hemp only contains THC in trace amounts, many lawmakers paint hemp and marijuana with the same brush.

However, hemp is far more useful. Historically, communities used hemp to make canvas, fishing nets, and rope. There are also records of hemp paper, hemp oil in pottery, and hemp clothes.

Now, hemp seems to be regaining its popularity. Big clothing brands, like Levis, now produce hemp-based clothing. Additionally, shoe brands like Adidas make hemp trainers.

This is predominantly because hemp is an eco-friendly, vegan alternative to other materials. Furthermore, many other brands — from streetwear labels to other clothing styles — now exclusively make hemp-based attire.

That's not all. With biodegradable hemp plastic, hemp protein powder, and hemp-based toiletries all dominating the market, it's clear that hemp is here to stay. Therefore, despite its controversial status, we could soon see hemp products everywhere, and not just confined to niche clothing or homeware stores.

What Do Older Farmers Say?

We've established that many young farmers now run industrial hemp farms, in hopes of tapping into the green rush. While hemp seems like a solid product — something that's here to stay — what do older farmers think of this?

Well, many older farmers disapprove of the idea, writing off their younger members who want to try their hand at hemp farming. In fact, it all comes down to history, education, and — most importantly — experience.

Older farmers often write off hemp as a crop due to the stigma behind it. This is because many of them have lived through the public panic and the vilification of the marijuana plant. Many of them also think that hemp is, in fact, synonymous with marijuana.

The (Hemp Farming) Times, They Are A-Changing

While older farmers might not appreciate or approve of hemp as a crop, this perspective is rapidly shifting. Dion Oakes pitched the idea of an industrial hemp farm to his father-in-law, a practised potato farmer. While his father-in-law, Shanan Wright, called him a pothead at first, education helped change his mind.

Plus, with more and more older farmers turning to CBD oil for arthritis, pain, and stress, many of them now realise that an industrial hemp farm could indeed be beneficial. Now, Oakes and Wright are seasoned industrial hemp farmers, having farmed the crop for over six years. They also delight in the fact that hemp doesn't require as much hydration as other crops — such as potatoes.

That's not all. Oakes and Wright now work with First Crop, teaching young farmers the ins and outs of agriculture and cultivation. Wright, as the more senior of the two, believes that old and young farmers should work together.

According to Wright, the farming industry is constantly changing. This means that young farmers have a better grasp of all the technological advancements. By working with older farmers, the younger generation can teach them about using the latest digital equipment, while learning the basics of growing and cultivating crops.

What About the Financial Aspect of Hemp Farming?

Some young Americans might have a casual interest in growing things or a budding green thumb. In this case, they could look into the idea of an industrial hemp farm. After all, that's how Becky Longberg started her hemp journey.

Longberg doesn't have a background in farming. In fact, all she had was an interest in growing things. She even used to run a bail bond business, before giving that up to start hemp farming.

Learning about water-wise plants kindled Longberg's love of permaculture. Therefore, when her father decided to start farming hemp, Longberg jumped in, headfirst. The Longberg family launched a successful industrial hemp farm, overcoming several hurdles in the process.

These included growing hemp in a drought, state-wide legislation surrounding hemp, and applying for loans. Given her career in finances, Longberg understands how challenging it can be. Banks often understand the risks associated with hemp farming. Furthermore, if there's marijuana involved, the banks themselves could face legal repercussions.

These decisions reflect on the hemp farmers themselves. Based on this, young farmers seldom receive bank loans, insurance, or financial assistance. There's a loophole, however, where banks grant more financial assistance to hemp farmers who also grow other crops. This could encourage young hemp farmers to grow other crops, expanding their horizons.

Additionally, many industrial hemp farmers have to toe the line, when it comes to  THC content in their hemp. In America, hemp crops cannot contain more than 0.3% of THC. Failure to comply with this could result in hemp farmers having to destroy their crops, leaving them at a financial loss once again.

Isn't THC Only Found In Marijuana?

While THC is commonly associated with marijuana, some hemp strains can contain up to 0.3% of THC. This is the legal limit in America; any more THC and farmers could see their crops destroyed.

Generally, these varieties are used to make broad-spectrum CBD oil, as the addition of THC can contribute to the entourage effect. However, just because a hemp plant contains more than 0.3% THC doesn't mean it's psychoactive. In fact, some marijuana plants contain much higher levels of THC — some even contain up to 20%.

Furthermore, an industrial hemp farm's environment can also cause a THC increase. According to Shawn Lucas, a plant grown in Oregon could contain low levels of THC. However, when planted in other locations — such as Louisville — its THC levels could spike.

Many industrial hemp farms grow saplings in controlled, indoor environments. Therefore, these saplings contain low levels of THC, in line with legal guidelines. Once sold, these saplings could be planted outside and exposed to the elements.

Given that industrial hemp farming is such a new industry, the jury is still out. We don't know what natural factor causes THC levels to spike. However, many experts put it down to the differences in external factors.

To circumvent this, many hemp farmers recommend testing the crops, at various growth stages. By doing this, they can ensure that they toe the line between marijuana and hemp. Consequently, they won't have to get rid of or destroy their crops, so their time, money, and efforts don't go to waste.

The Supercrop Boom

With all the interest surrounding hemp, it's no surprise that everyone wants a slice of the pie. After all, with industrial hemp farms trying to cut down on waste, hemp seems like the perfect crop. It requires surprisingly low amounts of water and grows fairly well on its own.

Hemp is also known for its variety of uses — anything from protein-rich hemp seeds to the fibre used for clothing, rope, and shoes. However, given the rise in industrial hemp farms, and an interest in growing hemp, the market could turn oversaturated soon enough. Furthermore, given the complicated hemp-related government guidelines, farmers often start cultivating hemp without knowing how to proceed.

Based on these situations, experts recommend coming up with a plan, before beginning the cultivation process. Ideally, industrial hemp farmers should have a harvest and a post-harvest plan. They should source customers, and learn how to market their product, before jumping head-first into the process.

Thankfully, all is not lost. After all, an interest in hemp farming has kindled a love of agriculture among younger people. This could potentially result in young farmers branching out to other crops. However, we can definitely expect more American-grown hemp in our CBD products.

Additionally, you might be wondering whether or not the industrial hemp boom has made its way to the UK. At Candid, we're proud to tell you that yes — it has. Here's what you should know if you want to grow your own hemp, or start an industrial hemp farm in the UK.

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