The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it has approved industrial hemp licensing plans for Louisiana, Ohio and New Jersey.
Those three are the first to be approved. USDA officials said another 15 state plans are being reviewed and eight more are being drafted. The National Conference of State Legislatures says at least 47 states have passed laws for industrial hemp cultivation and production.
The federal government last year legalized hemp, which is related to and looks like marijuana but contains only trace amounts of THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets people high. Hemp is often touted as a super crop with a myriad of uses.
Hemp fiber and seeds are used to produce textiles, rope, paper, cosmetics, fuel and CBD, which is often sold as a dietary supplement or included in creams and other personal care products.
Currently, state law allows the production, manufacture, retail sale and inspection of industrial hemp crops and products in Texas. However, the Texas Department of Agriculture still needs the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s approval of its rules before it’s legal to grow in the state, according to the TDA website.
TDA submitted its hemp plan to the USDA for approval on Dec. 2, 2019. The department believes the hemp-growing permit process will begin in the state in 2020.
“Hemp is a great plant,’’ said Lisa Martinez, the co-owner of Central Texas Hemp LLC. ‘‘It can solve a lot of problems going on in the world.’’
Martinez was one of several speakers who presented a workshop on the potential benefits of growing hemp for farmers last week at the Lufkin/Angelina County Chamber of Commerce.
“What we want to see happen ... is to grow farmers,” Martinez said. “I’m a seventh-generation peanut farmer and my son will never be able to do that.’’
She said the farmers affiliated with her corporation saw hemp as a way to revitalize their farms. Others sharing that knowledge during the workshop included Cass Keeler of Keeler Family Farms in Deming, New Mexico, who detailed his experience with the plant. Agronomist and master grower Travis Knoop gave attendees a scientific look at what would be required of growers. There also was a representative from Kilgore’s Ana-Lab to explain hemp testing and certification based on those state rules currently being considered by the USDA. There also were discussions about legal updates, marketing and selling hemp.
Hemp has earned a reputation as a sustainable crop because it grows more vigorously than corn, but requires less water, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer, according to Modern Farmer. On top of that, hemp has more than 25,000 known uses, including raw material for livestock feed, biofuel production, paper, textiles and other culinary and industrial applications.
However, for all its miraculous potential, the reality isn’t quite that simple.
For starters, like with most grains, it’s tough to be profitable without planting at least 50 acres. There also are still concerns in Texas about the legality and other ‘‘red-tape’’ issues. Then there are concerns about finding seed suitable for planting, and the special machinery needed to process hemp stalks for fiber is not readily available in America.
Then there’s the actual work.
Farming is both a lifestyle and a job, which means there is never a day off. And your livelihood depends on the fickle temperament of Mother Nature. A major drought or flood could spell disaster, which equates to little to no income in any given year.
Growing a new crop will require a lot of work and effort on the part of our local farmers, and time will tell if hemp is the right answer.