Browse the aisles of any Whole Foods, and whether you are looking at cereals, granola, protein powder or milk, one ingredient continues to show up: hemp. Hemp is a superfood. At 11 grams of protein per ounce, hemp seeds are a fantastic replacement for animal protein. Hemp contains all 20 amino acids, including nine essential amino acids (EAAs). It is a rich source of the healthy fats, and has more essential fatty acids than flax or any other nut, seed or oil. And, as Americans have adopted healthier lifestyles, they have also consumed more hemp. In fact, the United States is now the largest consumer of hemp in the world.
However, despite its popularity in the U.S., hemp is grown outside the country — with most of the crop coming from China — as farming communities nationwide, like those in New York’s Southern Tier, continue to struggle economically. They could benefit greatly from this lucrative crop and yet, industrial hemp has been illegal to grow in the U.S. for the last 80 years because it has been grouped with the marijuana plant, based on their similarities. Thankfully, the 2014 Federal Farm Bill changed that by allowing states to setup pilot programs to grow hemp. At least 27 states have enacted industrial hemp laws in some form, including New York.
Before hemp can reach its full potential, there are still three major challenges. First, by law, hemp producers must be able to consistently produce crop yields that contain less than 0.3% THC, the one psychoactive compound in the cannabis sativa plant. Second, many farmers still lack the expertise to grow hemp effectively and incorporate it into their crop rotations. And third, local law enforcement seemingly lacks information on hemp’s safety, especially the fact that it cannot be used as a psychoactive drug.
My company GenCanna Global has begun to adapt the lessons we have learned over the past two years in Kentucky to jump start New York’s own hemp revolution.
For the past two years, we have worked in Kentucky to develop a vertically integrated model that provides quality controls and assurances of our crop’s safety. We can control our crop’s THC levels and have full visibility into the entire development process from seed to sale. We have worked closely with Kentucky farmers of all types, effectively crowdfarming the best ways to cultivate hemp. From former tobacco to tomato farmers, we have sourced agricultural expertise from the entire farming community to see what works well and what does not. Last fall, we successfully harvested 100 acres of hemp. Our Kentucky farmers are poised to triple that in 2016.
We forged this path by working with local law enforcement at the outset. We worked closely with the Kentucky State Police’s Cannabis Suppression Branch and other entities to educate them on hemp and how it differs from other plants. This approach is an extension of our values. The contemporary hemp movement we are seeing throughout the country and now here in New York is an opportunity to unlock the full potential of the hemp crop. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the industrial hemp industry may be worth as much as $1.5 billion in the United States, alone. And while States that are embracing hemp are well-positioned to capture much of this economic opportunity, the work cannot end there. Collectively, we also have a responsibility to the environment and to local communities.
As farmers become proficient in interweaving hemp into their crop rotation, numerous environmental benefits arise. Hemp requires less chemicals, uses less space and consumes less water than most other crops. Two years ago, Kentucky farmers struggled as the tobacco industry crumbled, losing 30 per cent of their income. Hemp cultivation has begun to fill that void and turn Kentucky’s local economy around through job creation. Contrast this with New York’s Southern Tier, which has lost 2.2 per cent of its jobs last year alone. These communities have been injured the most by struggling farming and manufacturing industries.
We believe it is time to open-source what we learned in Kentucky and help regions like the Southern Tier find new sustainable engines for economic growth and social progress. Cultivating hemp in the Southern Tier would also help the state overcome many of the scaling issues it faces with its recent medical marijuana program. As of May 2nd, only 556 physicians and 3,361 patients registered for the program – in a state with 20 million residents. With exception to THC, hemp still shares similar concentrations of the plant’s remaining compounds, specifically cannabidiol (CBD), which has gained popularity as a nutraceutical product.
Cannabidiol has helped thousands of families treat children with epilepsy and other causes of seizures. Hemp’s non-psychoactive nature makes it safer to scale production. With 7 million acres of farmland, 36,000 farms and a rich history of farming, agricultural sciences and research, New York is an ideal environment to continue the hemp industry’s impact.
When it comes to industries like finance and media, the rest of the country – and even the world – looks to New York City for excellence. We believe that very soon the rest of the world will be looking to New York State, specifically its Southern Tier, for excellence in farming hemp. And we will all be better for it.