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Can Hemp Become a 60 Million Acre Crop and Billion Dollar Industry?
With low grain prices and the loss of the soybean exports to China because of a trade war, Iowa's farmers face dark times. But one Iowa farmer sees a light of hope with a crop that fell out of favor, but may be poised for a big comeback. Ethan Vorhes, a farmer in Charles City, Iowa sees great potential for growing industrial hemp.
"It's a perfect storm for revitalization of not only of Iowa, but America," said Vorhes, who is director of the Iowa Hemp Association.
Vorhes refers to language in the 2018 Farm Bill that would allow farmers to grow hemp in the U.S. after it had been banned for nearly 50 years because of its association with its closely related plant, marijuana. He also sees great potential because hemp can be processed into a multitude of products—from natural supplements and foods to fiber for making everything from clothing to high-tech materials.
"I think it would be a really good thing if we brought it to Iowa," said Vorhes who plans to use hemp as feed for his specialty Wagyu beef cows.
Hemp Acreage Increased 163 Percent in 2017
Hemp has been grown in the U.S. since the early 1600s when the first European settlers arrived. It was grown to make fiber for rope, fabric and paper, among other uses. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper. The "Hemp for Victory" campaign during World War II encouraged production of the crop for the war effort. But in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified hemp as marijuana making it illegal to grow in the U.S.; this despite the fact that hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Hemp's comeback began in 2014 when a provision in the 2013 Farm Bill defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and allowed universities and state agriculture departments to conduct hemp research programs. This allowed licensed farmers to grow hemp.
In 2017, more than 25,000 acres of hemp were grown in 19 states, a 163 percent increase over 2016. The number of acres "will be greatly expanded this year," said Erica McBride, executive director of the National Hemp Association, who adds that 39 states have passed some form of legislation to allow limited hemp production.
Kentucky Leads the Way
Kentucky has played a central role in hemp's revival. The state's U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Congressman James Comer have led legislative efforts, such as the 2013 Farm Bill provision, to bring hemp production back.
Kentucky led the U.S. in hemp production until the late 1800s before it was replaced with tobacco. Now with tobacco production falling, Kentucky farmers are considering hemp as an alternative.
John Bell, an organic farmer in Scott County, Kentucky, is licensed to grow hemp. His grandfather grew the crop during the 1940s.
"Hemp has a history of growing in Kentucky. It was grown for fiber everywhere," said Bell, who grows hemp to produce cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
About 70 percent of the hemp grown in the U.S. today is used to make CBD oil, a popular natural remedy for pain, inflammation and anxiety.
Kentucky's three major universities, Western Kentucky, University of Kentucky and Kentucky State all have hemp research projects.
Shawn Lucas, a certified crop adviser and assistant professor of organic agriculture at Kentucky State University, said Kentucky "grabbed the bull by the horns" with hemp production in 2014.
"We pride ourselves in that we got in early," said Lucas who is conducting research on hemp production. "The potential is there. As tobacco production shrinks, hemp could be an option for farmers or a way to diversify their operations."
Lucas said there are now 50 hemp processing facilities in Kentucky when there were none just a few years ago.
One of those processors is Victory Hemp based in Campbellsburg, Kentucky, which manufactures hemp seed oil, hemp protein powder and hemp seeds.
CEO Chad Rosen calls hemp a "superior nutritional product" with essential fatty acids and higher protein than other sources. Hemp is also aligned with the fast-growing plant-based food trend.
Hemp offers advantages to farmers. It has a track record of successful production in the U.S., and can be grown in all 50 states. It doesn't need as much water as cotton, and it doesn't need as many pesticides as corn and soybeans. It crowds out weeds and has a deep root system, which helps aerate the soil. It is also non-GMO and is being grown organically by some farmers.
Lucas said farmer interest in growing hemp is "huge," but cautions: "Anyone getting into it needs to do homework, and needs a market for their crop."
CBD, Food, Fiber and More Uses
Potential markets for hemp are many. CBD oil is now the biggest market followed by hemp foods, including hemp seed, oil and protein.
Nutiva is one of the leading hemp food manufacturers in the U.S. and CEO John Roulac has been one of hemp's leading advocates for nearly 20 years. In 2001, Roulac successfully sued the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to keep hemp-based foods legal in the U.S. Nutiva sells more than a dozen hemp-based products including oil, protein, and seeds, and they have the top-selling brand of hemp oil and seeds in the world.
Most of the hemp Nutiva uses is grown in Canada, but the company recently launched the first certified organic hempseed product grown in the U.S.
Colorado-based Stillwater Foods is making hemp-derived cannabinoid food ingredients. Stillwater CEO Justin Singer predicts big things for such ingredients, which can be used in beverages, functional teas, powdered drink mixes, and health snacks.
"Cannabinoids will become a new category of functional ingredients like probiotics, Omega-3, and flavonoids," he said.
While CBD oil is now the biggest market for hemp, McBride predicts that will change."Moving forward I anticipate that the fiber market will eventually exceed all other markets combined," she said.
Uses for hemp fiber seem endless. It is used to make clothing like t-shirts, socks, jeans, sneakers and hats, as well as wallets, backpacks, American flags and, of course, rope. Several companies use hemp fiber composites to make car door panels for automakers like BMW. It is also used in construction as a building material and insulation. Hemp fiber can also be transformed into high-performance energy storage devices, according to research by Dr. David Mitlin of Clarkson University in New York.
Legalization: a "Game Changing Event"
Success of these markets hinges on Congress allowing hemp to be grown nationwide. Last March, McConnell introduced The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances where it is now listed with marijuana. In June, the Senate passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill with McConnell's hemp legislation. Now the Senate must reconcile its version with the House of Representatives' version. [Note: This process was underway at the time of publishing this article — Aug. 27.]
Hemp supporters are confident that Congress will legalize hemp. "There is strong bipartisan support and very little opposition in the House," said Eric Steenstsra, president of Vote Hemp.
"There are not too many people in the political world that are really opposed to it," Lucas said. "Hemp seems to be something to bring people together."
Momentum for legalizing hemp farming got a big boost recently as California passed a bill that allows the state's farmers to grow industrial hemp and produce hemp seed, oil, fiber, and extract.
Once hemp is legalized nationwide, some supporters see hemp growing into a major crop and industry.
"Once we get federally backed crop insurance there's no reason this shouldn't and won't be on par with both corn and soybeans and grown on 60 million acres a year," Rosen said.
McBride sees hemp becoming a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S.
"When it is said that hemp can be used to create over 25,000 different products that is not an exaggeration. Once the federal law changes to allow full commercialization there will be large investments into the infrastructure required to build the industry."
Singer said legalization of hemp will be a "game changing event."
"We need to remove the red tape and let farmers plant the seed," Roulac said.
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‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."