Hemp Ignites a New Fire For Small Farmers of All Demographics
According to Yolanda Robinson of Kenner, MO “for the last twenty years our family farm has leased our land out but once hemp was legalized we decided not to renew the lease to grow hemp.” Robinson like many Black or small farmers view hemp as a silver lining to their dark economic cloud that has plagued them the past decade.
Hemp is viewed as a lifeline too many small farm operations.
Hemp is a warm weather crop that thrives in well aerated soil, rich in water but not in high humid, flood prone conditions. Hemp can grow up to 15 feet and a few inches thick in diameter the optimal temperature being 75 to 85 degrees. Over 25,000 products are cultivated from hemp in nine categories. From paper to concrete, the use of hemp is multipurpose.
For example, hempcrete is 7 to 8 times lighter in weight than concrete, allowing cinderblocks to float in water making it more resistant in flooding. Many European building structures dating back to the Sixth Century were constructed using hempcrete. Additionally, little to no fertilizer is needed to grow hemp. Prior to it being listed as an illegal drug in the 1937 Marijuana Act, farmers use to grow hemp for paper minimizing deforestation.
Farmers grow it in rotation with other crops such as barley or rye. Fibers are so thick a special tractor attachment is needed to break through the fibers. According to Producers.com, the price of conventional hemp is selling for .50 cent per pound while organic hemp is selling for $1.30 per pound.
In April the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released it’s 2017 Census 75 percent of US food is produced by 5 percent of producers. With nearly 604,000 out of 2.7 million US farms reporting below $1,000 in operational revenue, hemp has become the economic “gold rush” of US farming.
As the rate of consolidation and conglomerates go up, the only end in sight is for small and socially disadvantaged farmers to think innovatively in terms of direct sales and what they grow. Many are hoping hemp will be the way out of the current economic depression. According to the USDA 2017 Census, the number of black owned farms decreased from 34,758 in 2012 to 32,910 in 2017.
On May 29, 2019, USDA issued its guidance on hemp farming. Unfortunately, the guidance included a 10-year ineligibility ban on individuals convicted of a state or felony-controlled substance charge any time after December 20, 2018, the date hemp was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Anyone with a prior controlled substance conviction who obtained their license to grow prior to this date will not be impacted by the ban. This guidance provides an outlook into USDA’s future regulation not only of hemp but cannabis. USDA’s recent license ban continues to perpetuate the systematic rule of law against people of color in the cannabis space. Forward thinking states programs like Illinois and Texas where quasi-reparations are included in state policy provides for a potential even playing field.
Earlier in the year, several county district attorney’s offices in Texas declared in a public statement it will no longer prosecute misdemeanor offenses without laboratory testing providing its THC level is above .30 amount to be labelled as marijuana.
On June 24, 2019, the Texas District & County Attorneys Association backed up the DA’s public statement with its own public letter. Hundreds of low-possession marijuana charges have been thrown out during the Summer because the police do not have the testing equipment to make a distinction between marijuana and hemp. Illinois is the first state to incorporate reparations into its cannabis policy. Illinois legalization of cannabis will compensate communities of color who have been negatively impacted by the “war on drugs.”
License fees will be reduced and prior marijuana convictions of an estimated 800,000 people will be expunged in low-income communities of color throughout the state. In anticipation of the legalization of marijuana, Illinois is the model policy for the USDA to adopt. Unfortunately, its current guidance of a 10-year ban on hemp licensing and no mention of expungement of prior convictions says little for the Department’s initiative to right the wrongs of the past.
Individuals like Dre Taylor, Co-Founder & CEO of Plush Green based in Kansas City, Missouri are hopeful “hemp levels the playing field for Black farmers, we are focused on connecting farmers to purchasing opportunities.” Companies like Plush Green are needed in assisting farmer’s broker deals with companies like Medterra and Earth Science Tech.
Due to there being more demand than supply farmers are eager to grow into the field. According to Jay Hartenbach, CEO of Medterra a non-GMO CBD company we are “so excited about the industry now that hemp cultivation is legal for all farmers.” In the Spring, Medterra became one of five CBD companies to sell their hemp products at CVS stores nationwide.
Hartenbach notes major companies like “CVS are looking to market products that are consistent in quality and sourcing.” All of Medterra’s CBD is sourced from small and large hemp growers in Kentucky. Hartenbach states “there is demand for a variety of hemp-derived products and cannabinoids, which allows small farmers to grow specialized batches” unique to larger operators.
Medterra is a THC free isolate product that is sold in liquid and pill form. Other companies like Earth Science Tech sell CBD full spectrum products. A full spectrum contains a small percentage of THC, less than 0.3 percent. The difference between isolated and full spectrum is the THC content which is the psychoactive component of cannabis is completely extracted out leaving the isolate product.
According to Gagan Hunter, COO of Earth Science Tech “the need for diversity in the hemp space is important and we try our best to work with small and large farmers particular from a diverse background.” Hunter continues “unfortunately, we find small farmers are having a hard time coming up with the initial capital to enter the space.”
As the industry continues to grow, companies like Medterra and Earth Science Tech are essential for small and socially disadvantaged farmers to enter the hemp space. With startup costs being thousands of dollars, the opportunities of entering the hemp market is not easy but doable.
Adding in application and license fees (if approved) plus seed selling at a dollar per seed the initial investment to test trial a new crop is a high risk. Despite the costs, many farmers know they will have to learn how to grow the crop properly. Many farmers compare it to growing tobacco since once the stock is chopped the leaves must be dried.
However, many farmers that have been growing hemp in pilot project states, argue otherwise. The stock is thicker, and the drying time is shorter. Farmers are more interested in hemp versus cannabis because there is less legal risk and more market profitability.
Many Black farm families, view hemp as a way to bridge the generational divide and ignite a farming interest in young people. As the Black community continues to lose 30,000 acres per year in landownership. The need to recruit across all demographics based on the average age of the farmer being 60 is imperative.
Although there was an increase of 11 percent in young farmers under the age of 35 years old, the demographics regarding race and age are still a challenge to overcome. Out of 2.7 million US farmers 396,000 producers are 75 and older. The need for diversity is imperative, Whites account for 2,614,526 US farmers. Comparatively, Hispanic farmers account for 112,451, Natives 46,201, Blacks 38,447, Asians 16,978 and Pacific Islanders 2,306.
Buyers like Medterra and Earth Science Tech that are socially consensus about where they source their hemp from will allow for a fair and open market for small farmer who are aging or disenfranchised. Despite the new statistics the possibilities for small farmers to win is high on hemp.
Hartenbach says “there are great opportunities coming, a farmer can make up to $20,000 per acre growing hemp compared to $1,800 growing corn” with margins like the 30% of farmers that made less than $1,000 between 2012-2017 will be able to grow their revenue in a matter of months. As the industry progresses, supply and demand will balance out operational costs and determine what region of the country will be the industry leader.
For farmers in the Southeast that are diverse in demographics the temperature and the climate are ripe for growth! Yolanda Robinson states she “wants to see the [her family] farm in production and successful for my elders before they pass away because we haven’t seen the farm prosper in decades.” Hemp gives small farmers like Robinson hope about the future of farming.
Jillian Hishaw Esq., is an Agricultural Attorney, Founder & CEO of F.A.R.M.S., and author of “Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid.” Hishaw is well-versed in the area of civil rights, agricultural policy and was recognized as a “Food Changemaker” by Clif Bar Co., and has been featured in O (Oprah) Magazine, The Atlantic, Vice News, and more. Hishaw has nearly 15 years of professional experience and has raised funds for various food bank and law programs. Hishaw was recently recognized by the Food Tank organization as 1 of 14 Women Leaders in the World Impacting Agriculture! Hishaw will be one of the keynote speakers at the Hemp Industries Association National Conference next month. For more information about Hishaw please visit www.jillianhishaw.com or www.30000acres.org. Instagram: @f.a.r.m.s.