Insight 2020: Industrial Hemp
Our Insight 2020 blog series will provide you with updates and news regarding the Maryland General Assembly and the 2020 Legislative Session.
Maryland is one of many states in the US that has passed laws allowing farmers to grow hemp but federal regulations and guidelines are preventing the state from finalizing its own regulations leaving the state’s growers in limbo. The harvesting of hemp has already begun in Maryland but with no road map guiding the industry there are concerns among many growers regarding the investments they make now and how they may be impacted in the near future as more regulations are put in place.
According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, “Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants but have different levels of THC. Industrial hemp can be used in food, fiber, paper, beauty products and other products, and the industry estimates it could grow nationally to be a $1.9 billion market by 2022.”
The financial investment and risks are not for the faint of heart. A $20,000 per acre investment could yield as much as $100,000 per acre return. A more modest investment could return a reasonable $40,000 to $60,000 return. Even if a successful crop is produced one must be able to dry, store and sell the crop, and, as with any crop, insects, invasive weeds and disease must be addressed.
Some growers are partnering with the University of Maryland to conduct trials in an effort to obtain data to help establish industry best practices. The goal is to find the optimal formula to produce a high-quality product in sufficient quantity high in CBD, while maintaining the psychoactive THC under the legal limits.
According to an article in The Delmarva Farmer, “University of Maryland is partnering with 13 growers conducting trials to get data on the best nitrogen rates and timing to find the ‘sweet spot’ of yield, both in total crop weight and in pounds of flowers per acre, and phytochemical levels — high in the sought after CBD but keeping the psychoactive THC below its legal threshold.”
There are approximately 240 strains of hemp, and hemp enthusiasts see this as the birth of an industry. As with any fledging industry there are no guarantees and success is often illusive. Victims of the first hemp crop were farmers. To that end, the Maryland Farm Bureau (MFB) is moving to help its members navigate the complex hemp growing terrain. MFB hosted a meeting recently which included discussions on seed types, current developments at the University of Maryland and local issues facing growers in their respective communities. One issue is that the hemp crop emits a distinct odor. Concern by communities near outdoor hemp farms has already elicited the filing of legislation*.
Current restrictions state that hemp fields must be at least 1,000 feet from a school or public recreation area, and to hold a hemp grower’s license one cannot have a felony drug conviction in the past 10 years.
Obtaining a state permit to grow industrial hemp requires a partnership with an institution of higher learning, which will facilitate the exchange of information and hopefully avoid future costly mistakes. The State of Maryland permitted 65 industrial hemp growers for 2019.
The State’s first hemp growers along with those seeking new permits, will be closely following updates as they are available for new federal guidelines and regulations. While hemp has the potential to help farmers diversify their crops and to grow Maryland’s agriculture industry, more information, research and guidelines are needed first.
The fledgling industry is drawing significant interest among farmers, want-to-be farmers and many who did not make the cut for a license to grow medical cannabis. Presently, the mantra among Maryland farmers is “industrial hemp.”
*As of this writing three hemp-related bills have been filed:
- HB100 Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo, et al Maryland Agricultural Commission – Hemp Industry Member (Pro)
- HB 510 Delegate Hettleman, et al Agriculture – Hemp Research and Production – Prohibitions (Con)
- HB 574 Delegate Cardin, et al Agriculture –License to Produce Hemp – Limitation (Con)
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