Even though hemp has been cultivated by humans for the past 12,000 years, it’s essentially still a new crop here in the United States.
For almost 45 years, U.S. cultivation of hemp practically ceased because of a 1970s narcotics law. After the 2014 and 2018 farm bills loosened those restrictions, the production of hemp took off — and perhaps a little too quickly at that.
The number of acres planted with hemp went from zero in 2013 to more than 90,000 in 2018, leading many farmers to jump into the market with hopes of cashing in after years of low commodity prices. But as in any new crop, decision-making can be risky when there is little information about competitors, markets and production techniques.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is hard at work to help fill the various knowledge gaps connected to hemp. Through efforts at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and at many other USDA agencies, researchers are gathering much needed data and making scientific discoveries to help restore hemp as a lucrative and viable business for producers across the country.
Better decisions through data
In February, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the results of the 2021 Hemp Acreage and Production Survey, which is part of the agency’s National Hemp Report. This landmark report provides critical information about hemp production to help decision-makers across the industry — from producers and processors to regulators and government officials —make better choices about growing, harvesting and selling hemp.
According to the NASS report, the value of hemp production in 2021 totaled $824 million. The amount of planted area of industrial hemp grown for all utilizations totaled 54,152 acres. The area of hemp grown under protection totaled 15.6 million square feet.
In terms of value, floral hemp production was the highest with a total value of $623 million from 19.7 million pounds. The flower from female plants produces the highest concentration of cannabinoids, one of which — cannabidiol, or CBD — is a valuable ingredient in supplements, skin creams, shampoos and other products.
Other utilizations in 2021 include:
- Hemp grown for fiber (33.2 million pounds) and seed (1.86 million pounds), each with a value of approximately $41.5 million.
- Hemp grown for grain (4.37 million pounds), with a value of about $6 million.
Land-grants leading the way
With support from NIFA, Land-grant Universities across the country are creating new knowledge that is helping to both establish and expand the cultivation and production of industrial hemp in the U.S.
- At Purdue University, researchers have explored ways to control weeds in hemp production, which is one of the largest issues facing growers. The Purdue Industrial Hemp Project provides research-based information to assist in the development of hemp in Indiana and across the Midwest.
- A number of research projects at North Carolina A&T State University are supporting the development of the industrial hemp industry in the Tar Heel State, from determining the best hemp varieties for the state’s various growing regions to identifying optimal growth conditions for industrial hemp.
- At New Mexico State University, researchers have filled in a knowledge gap related to the low bioavailability of orally ingested CBD. They discovered that when taken with food high in fat (such as olive oil), the body will absorb more of the beneficial compound.
Read Part 2 of this blog to learn more about current NIFA-supported research that is furthering the development of industrial hemp in the U.S.