Updated: Sep 14, 2020
After a fantastic celebration of the Return of the Plant! in June, we now look to the future of hemp cultivation on American soil. This is the time to mobilize farmers, advocates, consumers, business owners, and environmentalists across the country to work together to develop a robust hemp industry and build a solid foundation for the next hundred years of hemp farming. What opportunities might there be for the hemp industry in this new era, and what challenges could present themselves in the next years?
In this second article of our two-part blog series, our ten Hemp Heroes share their hopes and thoughts about the road ahead for hemp.
Future Opportunities for Hemp
The legalization of hemp farming in the U.S. opens the door for various new opportunities for the hemp industry. Our hemp heroes share their expert opinions on the main opportunities they see for the industry.
CBD & More
The CBD market is currently experiencing steep growth. It grew from a market that was barely noticeable a few years ago that had $190 million in consumer sales of CBD products in 2017. Sales are even expected to grow by more than 600% by 2020. But what other important opportunities are there? According to Courtney Moran, Cannabis Counselor and Attorney at Law, “the potential for hemp in the U.S. has really just begun. We have already seen an explosion in the industry just six months into federal legalization, with several new states producing hemp this production season, an exponential growth in the number of farmers growing in the states that have existing pilot programs, and hemp retail stores popping up all over the country. While the focus right now domestically is mostly on CBD production, we will see the market shift to encourage hemp production for other non-intoxicating cannabinoids as well as the continued growth of both the grain and fiber markets. As the markets for grain and fiber expand, we’ll see a growing number of ways hemp increases value for manufacturers and consumers, resulting in a collateral benefit for the environment and our nation’s farm economy.”
David Bronner, CEO at Dr. Bronner’s also sees the big opportunities for CBD oil. “CBD is on fire right now and we’re just beginning to explore its potential. It seems to be an effective medicine for treating epilepsy in children, and other medical applications are being researched.” Next to this, he shares “hempcrete is big too. We have the potential with hemp to create housing that is less toxic for those living in it and has less impact on the environment.”
To take full advantage of what hemp has to offer, it has to be integrated into a regenerative organic system. This can provide many benefits, including increasing biodiversity through crop rotation, reversal of erosion, contribution to carbon sequestration, support of pollinator species, and revitalization of rural economies.
Hemp farmer Michael Lewis shares: “The main opportunity that we try to stay focused on is the opportunities hemp brings for diversifying crop cycles and helping to transition farmers to more regeneration practices. Water pollution from unsustainable agricultural practices poses a serious risk to human health and the planet's ecosystems, in most countries it is the leading source of water pollution. Hemp production in long term production systems can help us introduce healthy crops back into to the food system.”
Doug Fine, hemp farmer and author, adds that “Hemp allows small acreage farmers to succeed -- to make real livings, while cultivating organically and helping mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon through soil building practices.”
Hemp seeds are incredibly good for you! Next to a delicious ingredient that can be added to various dishes, they are also packed with nutrients, including essential fatty acids, protein, fiber, and various minerals. “Everyone is talking about CBD right now, but we can't forget about the food and fiber,” says Annie Rouse, co-founder of Anavii Market. “While CBD and cannabinoids will change the future of medicine, hemp foods will change our health patterns. Utilizing this plant effectively can have the potential to significantly reduce healthcare costs and insurance costs while improving people's quality of life.”
Colleen Keahey Lanier, executive director of the HIA thinks there will be a greater variety in how hemp as will be used as a health food ingredient. “It will be known for its nutrient qualities to rival other seed grains. I hope to see it recognized as the superfood that it is and a staple in household pantries. I also believe it's possible that hemp's cannabinoid constituents will become exploited one by one whether the driver is science or marketing alone.”
Other Hemp Uses
Hemp’s potential doesn’t stop with CBD and hemp seeds; virtually every part of the plant can be used. The stalk’s outer bast fiber can be used make textiles, canvas and rope while its woody core, the hurd, is used for paper, construction, and animal bedding. Although currently the annual sales of these types of products are lower than those of for example CBD, some of our hemp heroes see a great future for them. According to Anndrea Hermann founder of TRICC, “there are big opportunities for hemp for fiber, both bast and hurd production, as well as for feed stock animals and companion pet foods.”
Hemp also provides sustainable and biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based products like plastic. It is already appearing in some commonplace objects, including cars, and could soon find its way into more. The technology is there, but there are still some barriers like the production price of hemp plastics. Indigenous organizer Marcus Grignon specifically sees great potential in “biodegradable plastics, hemp batteries, and materials for the space industry.” Outperforming standard supercapacitors up to 200 percent, hemp-based supercapacitors could indeed be the future of green technology.”
When combined with using the plant as an impetus for change within material science - a shift away from petroleum-based plastics and towards bio-based plastics, we can improve the quality of human health, but also the quality of Mother Earth. And that is exciting!” says Annie Rouse, co-founder of Anavii Market.
Challenges for the hemp industry
Next to great opportunities, there are also some challenges that we should be aware of in order to ensure the successful and sustainable growth of the hemp industry in the U.S.
Investment Beyond CBD
Lauren Stansbury from Movement Media and Courtney Moran both see investment in hemp outside of CBD as a main challenge. “To realize hemp’s full potential, it is essential investment opportunities are provided for those entrepreneurs exploring new techniques and technology for hemp grain and fiber,” says Courtney. Lauren adds that “infrastructure and technology development for fiber processing are important, so that hemp fiber becomes a cost-efficient alternative to tree pulp and lumber.”
A Level Playing Field for Farmers
While the hemp industry is growing quickly, it is important this happens in a fair and balanced way. “A major challenge is from big ag,” says David Bronner. “It’s going to be incredibly easy for big ag to swoop in and implement industrial agriculture methods that don’t leverage hemp’s intrinsic potential be farmed in a regenerative organic way. That would be tragic and we must work hard to steer things in a different direction.”
According to Doug Fine, “farmers must also be allowed to utilize and own any cultivars that meet hemp definitions should they choose. Certification processes are fine in the long term, but for now all genetics must be allowed, so farmers freely own their seeds and are not serfs to a late 20th Century model. The second essential element is eliminating THC definitions of hemp. These place undue burdens on the farmer. THC should not matter until the retail level. Lastly, we must learn to balance the need for product safety with the flexibility for top shelf, independent producers to cultivate the way fine wine producers do.”
Research and Education
During the last 10 years, the Hemp History Week campaign has seen how important education is to raise awareness about hemp and break stigma’s. “Despite the decade-long effort of the Hemp History Week campaign and the growth of the market, I'm not confident that the general population understands hemp's distinction from marijuana,” says Colleen Keahey Lanier. “I think the hemp industries and advocates will need to continue to unravel the knots of Cannabis prohibition and articulate the complex nature of plant genus vs. genetic varieties. Today, even though hemp is now designated as a commodity in federal law, there continues to be censorship and rejection of hemp under the false conclusion that it is marijuana. Hemp-derivate products, CBD products for example, will also face federal scrutiny in the interest of ensuring consumer safety, and many of the pioneers of brands may find themselves unable to compete without the ability to fully comply with federal approvals and standards.”
According to Annie Rouse “the industry has a long road ahead when it comes to research and sustainable development of markets. Federal regulations prohibited research for decades which has slowed progress - now in order for hemp to be a nationally recognized animal feed, we have to do clinical trials to prove it is a safe ingredient. This adds more costs and prolongs the timeframe to go-to-market. Research is absolutely needed within the cannabinoid space, but when it comes to grain, we know it is safe, and it should be recognized as such, but the problem is proving it. The one good thing prohibition provided was the ability for us to learn from past mistakes and understand the industrial agricultural problems of corn and soybeans. We need to harness those mistakes and be careful when it comes to developing too quickly and without substantial research as to the true cost.”
Our hemp heroes see a few additional challenges, which include:
- Uniformity in regulations from state to state and access to funding to run the state extension programs. – Anndrea Hermann
- Building the infrastructure to handle the huge demand in the very future. – Coach Freddie
- Managing farmers and consumers expectations. – Michael Lewis
- Competition over cooperation and ego/power. - Marcus Grignon
This is a great moment in hemp’s history. We’ve all fought hard and long for the legalization of hemp farming in the U.S. Let’s now reclaim the virtues of hemp after more than 80 years of prohibition, and write a new history of hemp for future generations of farmers, consumers and manufacturers—a righteous, modern narrative of regenerative agriculture, renewable resources, plant-based nutrition and healthy lifestyles. This is a great opportunity to rebuild our rural economies with lucrative hemp crops, and usher in a new market of sustainably produced, American-made consumer goods. The return of the plant brings with it a revitalization of agricultural knowledge, as farmers embrace organic agronomy and rediscover the benefits to soil, crop cycles, and pollinators that hemp imparts to a regenerative farming model. We stand at the threshold of a new beginning for hemp farming and all have a stake in this journey. Let’s commit to further solidarity as we work to ensure the successful emergence of a vibrant, deeply rooted, ecologically-conscious hemp industry in the United States. Onwards!