Industrial Hemp: North Carolina’s Newest Crop

Opinions_Industrial Hemp_Kaetlyn Dembkoski_flickr user_Lesley L. (1)

PC: Lesley L/Flickr

Kaetlyn Dembkoski
Staff Writer 

Since last month, there has been a lot of excitement growing as many farmers have begun harvesting the spoils of their new crop: industrial hemp. Yet, in the wake of this excitement, many are still against the harvesting of industrial hemp-based on inaccurate information and fear-mongering.

Industrial hemp has been grown around the world for hundreds of years. Hemp is a valuable agricultural commodity in over 30 countries where its stalk, seed and flowers are processed into multiple products including food, fiber, textiles, paper, cosmetic products and animal feed.

Industrial hemp is derived from the same species as marijuana (Cannabis sativa), but the crops are distinguishable by their tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is a cannabinoid produced by the plant that causes the known high from marijuana. This is due to the plant having more than 0.3 percent THC content. Hemp, on the other hand, must have less than 0.3 percent THC to be acceptable under the recent laws that have been enacted, otherwise, the entire crop must be destroyed.

Cannabis plants produce many other cannabinoids besides THC. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a cannabinoid that has attracted a lot of attention for its pharmaceutical effects and is used to treat many types of medical issues such as epilepsy, depression, pain, etc. As a result, this factor of value has interested many hemp growers to take up production.

Due to the widespread usage and attraction, hemp has driven more than 30 nations to grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity, where it is then sold on the world market. In the United States, however, production is strictly controlled under existing drug enforcement laws.

For example, the 113th Congress made significant changes to U.S. policies regarding industrial hemp during the omnibus farm bill debate. The Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79) provided that certain research institutions and state departments of agriculture may grow industrial hemp as part of an agricultural pilot program if allowed under state laws where the institution or state department of agriculture is located.

Hemp production has been legalized in North Carolina, but only as part of the state’s pilot program. Rules for producing hemp have been approved and the commission has begun licensing growers to produce hemp under the rules. To grow industrial hemp in North Carolina, an individual must be a bona fide farmer in the state and provide tax information to show that.

The farmers must also agree to work with either North Carolina State University or North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to meet 11 research objectives established by statute in North Carolina.

Hemp has nothing but gains associated with it. As a versatile and sustainable crop, hemp is grown without the use of chemical pesticides. It also filters out toxins already in the soil and requires less water and maintenance than other crops such as wheat, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council. The United States has previously banned its cultivation “based on its biological connection to marijuana,” which the council notes as a blunder that shows ignorance of plant science. Yet, with its legalization in several states including North Carolina, it seems that these attitudes may be changing.

The crop holds many monetary rewards for those growers. Unlike Americans, Canadians have been thoroughly enjoying the huge profits of growing hemp for years: almost $250 per acre back in 2013. This deal is made even more attractive when considering the number of companies purchasing and creating goods from hemp.

Despite these enticing features, industrial hemp still gets hindered by government intrusion. In 2014, U.S. Customs officials seized a 286-pound shipment of Italian hemp seed bound for Kentucky’s state agriculture department at the command of the Drug Enforcement Administration, After a weeklong standoff, a federal agency had to be reminded by the federal courts that the law had changed and that Kentucky’s seed imports were legal.

However, this was not the only occasion of the seizure of hemp seeds. Just a few weeks ago, at the Canadian border, the Drug Enforcement Administration struck again, this time seizing a shipment of hemp seeds bound for Colorado farmers.

Overall, the production of hemp needs to be permitted. Just like any other crop, these seeds shouldn’t be stopped simply because they have a shared but distant heritage with marijuana. To promote growth in farming environments, a wide variety of crops must be kept. These government restrictions are obstructing hemp growers’ ability to grow. With the pilot programs active, perhaps an increase of knowledge about industrial hemp can allow for acceptance to emerge.



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