Hemp officials from two states shared their experiences with the potential alternative crop at the recent Florida Ag Expo. Doris Hamilton, hemp program manager for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and Paul Adams, industrial hemp program manager for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, participated in a panel discussion.
Hamilton reported Kentucky had almost 1,000 growers and nearly 27,000 acres of hemp in 2019. Adams said North Carolina growers had planted almost 17,000 acres. Both cited risks in hemp production.
Hamilton said industrial hemp cannot legally contain more than three-tenths of a percent THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Exceeding that level can lead to destruction of a grower’s inventory. “Many farmers are learning to manage that risk by harvesting certain cultivars a little earlier than full maturity to make sure it is a legal crop … Production of the crop is challenging.”
Adams said hemp growers deal with fungal pathogens and insects. “Another problem that we’ve seen is that a lot of growers have sort of jumped feet first into this and they don’t necessarily have a processor or a contract to get paid,” he said.
Asked about the bottom line of hemp production as an alternative crop, Hamilton said some (not most) growers are profitable. She explained that hemp production is still in the early stages, and much infrastructure is still being developed. “Those owners may not always see their contracts being fulfilled the way they were expecting,” she said. But she reported that other growers say they make twice as much profit with hemp as they made growing tobacco.
Adams added: “In the state of North Carolina … it would be remiss for me to say that most are profitable at this point.” He said veteran growers were most likely to be profitable because “they have the experience under their belts.”
Hemp “is a difficult crop to grow,” Hamilton said. “I couldn’t agree more,” said Adams.
In both Kentucky and North Carolina, more than 90 percent of the hemp is grown for CBD production.
“The state of Kentucky has been very pleased with what we’ve learned in the last six years, and I would just encourage everybody in the state of Florida … to be cautious but to be optimistic,” said Hamilton.
Adams said, “I’d 100 percent echo that. There’s definitely some hope out there in the industry. It can be profitable … But again, you need to be cautious. You need to do research; line up your buyer.”
Hear more from Hamilton and Adams:
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