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Hemp Agriculture

Written by Dr. Madeleine Roberts
Published on November 14, 2023
Research Highlights

A nationwide 45 year gap in hemp production has led to a loss of generational knowledge in hemp agriculture and a lack of necessary infrastructure that stalls immediate sustainable growth in the hemp market. 

MO is a top 5 hemp producing state. 

Several hemp products present viable, sustainable alternatives to current products. 

The cultivation of hemp was only recently legally separated from marijuana. 

Both hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant, Cannabis sativa L., which contains cannabinoid chemicals, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While marijuana is the form of the plant used as a psychoactive drug, hemp is cultivated to be used in a variety of industrial products. Industrial hemp is legally defined as containing a maximum of 0.3% of the psychoactive compound delta-9 THC, which ranges from 5-30% in marijuana (CRS, 2019). 

  • Industrial hemp was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, which separated industrial hemp from marijuana, to allow commercial hemp cultivation and processing.  
  • MO HB 2034 established the Industrial Hemp Agriculture Pilot Program in 2018 to regulate growth, cultivation, processing, and marketing of hemp in MO. It closed in 2022 based on declining registration and producer permits, which made running the program unsustainable.   
  • MO hemp producers are currently licensed by the USDA. Questions about hemp-derived products intended for human consumption are directed to the MO DHSS. DHSS regulates products from marijuana but is not responsible for the regulation of hemp-derived products, notably CBD, delta-8 THC, or delta-10 THC (RSMo XIV Section 1; RSMo 196.070). 

Nationwide, hemp production has shrunk.  

In 2022, MO was among the top 5 states in total hemp acreage planted (Figure 1). While other states have seen sharp declines in hemp cultivation after 2019, MO and SD have continued growth in hemp production. Leading states typically were able to benefit from existing knowledge, infrastructure, and regulatory mechanisms from an established cannabis industry, notably OR, CO, MT, or historic institutional knowledge, especially in KY. Nationally, legalization of industrial hemp production led to a rapid expansion of hemp agriculture, especially in floral hemp grown for CBD. Rapid growth in production paired with insufficient processing capacity, uncertain demand, and an unclear regulatory landscape, contributed to a subsequent national decline in hemp production since 2019.  

  • In 2022, production of industrial hemp was valued at $238 million nationally, down by 71% from 2021 (USDA-NASS, 2023). 

Figure 1. Acres of hemp planted within the 2022 top 6 hemp producing states (MT, SD, KY, OR, MO, and CO) in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 (USDA, 2019-2023). Figure adapted from Gonzalez, 2023. 

 

As a historic leader in hemp production, MO restarted commercial hemp production but has not yet reached historic levels. 

MO hemp production peaked in 1860, totaling 19,267 tons of hemp, which was 26% of the total grown in the U.S.(MU Extension, 2019). The MO hemp industry decreased over time with higher profitability of other crops.  Virtually no hemp was grown in MO after 1900. Today, the significant hiatus in MO hemp production has led to the loss of generational knowledge and infrastructure in farming practices, storage, and processing. To bridge this gap, MO researchers are working to establish best local farming practices and produce hemp varietals that are both conducive to MO regional environments and contain consistently low THC levels to comply with regulatory requirements (Personal communication, LU Hemp Institute). 

  • In 2022, 1,400 acres of industrial hemp were harvested in MO; 16.5 tons of floral hemp was valued at $2,343,000, and 3835 tons of fiber hemp was valued at $9,971,000 (USDA-NASS, 2023).   
  • In recent surveys, MO hemp farmers reported a lack of processors and access to reliable hemp genetics as their greatest challenges, in addition to accessing banking services, finding harvesting equipment, finding seeds, and managing scalability and growth (MU Extension, 2019; Gonzalez, 2022). 

 

Hemp has many sustainable uses but growing hemp may require significant resources.  

Incorporation of industrial hemp in a crop rotation can be beneficial, as it has been shown to replace soil nutrients and provide soil aeration through its deep and extensive roots (Cherney, 2016; Portugal et al., 2020). However, the sustainability of hemp farming practices is debated; requirements for water and nutrients are variable based on location and variant, but are referenced as relatively high (Cherney, 2016) 

The multiple useful parts of the hemp plant: seed, fiber, hull, and flower, have as many as 50,000 claimed applications, but only a few products have significant potential for market growth (Cherney, 2016). In many cases, the hemp-derived alternative product outperforms the traditional product, but supply of hemp and expensive processing techniques dissuades adoption (MU Extension, 2019). 

  • Fiber 
  • Building materials- “Hemp-crete” concrete alternative, wall insulation, wood-substitute (Ahmed, 2022; MU Extension, 2019). 
  • Hemp biopolymer for automobile parts (Hill, 2012) 
  • Textile-grade fiber—a more sustainable alternative to cotton (Schumacher, 2020) 
  • Animal bedding (MU Extension, 2019) 
  • Hempseed oil  
  • Biodiesel(Li et al., 2010; Viswanathan et al., 2021) 
  • Cooking oil and dietary supplements (MU Extension, 2019) 
  • Pharmaceuticals 
  • Floral hemp varieties can be processed for cannabinoids, most notably CBD (MU Extension, 2019). 

 

References 

Ahmed ATMF, Islam MZ, Mahmud M S, Sarker ME, & Islam MR (2022) Hemp as a potential raw material toward a sustainable world: A review. Heliyon, 8(1), e08753. https://www.cell.com/heliyon/pdf/S2405-8440(22)00041-X.pdf 

Hill K, Cregger J, Swiecki B (2012) The Bio-Based Materials Automotive Value Chain. Center for Automotive Research. https://www.cargroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/The-Bio_Based-Materials-Automotive-Value-Chain 

Cherney J, Small E (2016) Industrial Hemp in North America: Production, Politics and Potential. Agronomy, 6(4), 58. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy6040058 

Congressional Research Service (2019) Defining Hemp: A Fact Sheet. https://crsreports.congress.gov 

Gonzalez E (2022). Missouri Hemp Producers Challenges and Perspectives. Presented at Lincoln University Extension Hemp Institute Missouri Industrial Hemp Farmers Forum. https://www.lincolnu.edu/cooperative-extension-and-research/cooperative-research/plant-science-programs/hemp-institute/videos-and-webinars.html 

Gonzalez E (2023) Production Trends and Perspectives of Industrial Hemp in Missouri and the United States. https://www.lincolnu.edu/hemp-institute/lu-ag-hemp-fact-sheet_final.pdf 

Li SY, Stuart JD, Li Y, Parnas RS (2010) The feasibility of converting Cannabis sativa L. oil into biodiesel. Bioresource Technology, 101(21), 8457–8460. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biortech.2010.05.064 

MU Extension (2019) Missouri Industrial Hemp Production. https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/mx73 

MU Extension (2019). Market Opportunities for Industrial Hemp. https://extension.missouri.edu/media/wysiwyg/Extensiondata/Pub/pdf/miscpubs/mx0072.pdf 

Portugal JR, Arf O, Buzetti S, Portugal ARP, Garcia NFS, Meirelles FC, Garé LM, Abrantes FL, Rodrigues RAF (2020). Do cover crops improve the productivity and industrial quality of upland rice? Agronomy Journal, 112(1), 327–343. https://doi.org/10.1002/agj2.20028 

Schumacher AGD, Pequito S, Pazour J (2020). Industrial hemp fiber: A sustainable and economical alternative to cotton. Journal of Cleaner Production, 268, 122180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122180 

USDA-NASS. (2023). National Hemp Report. https://usda.library.cornell.edu/concern/publications/gf06h2430 

Viswanathan MB, Cheng MH, Clemente TE, Dweikat I, Singh V (2021). Economic perspective of ethanol and biodiesel coproduction from industrial hemp. Journal of Cleaner Production, 299, 126875. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.126875 

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