Erik Rothenberg Rest in Peace

Erik Rothenberg - Rest In PeaceOur friend and larger than life hemp hero Erik Rothenberg departed this world last Thursday, surrounded by love, family and friends.

Erik is who first turned me on to and sold us our first hemp oil. He was a hemp warrior who served on the Vote Hemp board and fought side by side against DEA when they attacked the industry in 2001.

Erik also ran a successful solar company and invented a currency called URSULA that indexes and values all that is good, true and beautiful in life (see video below). He also was the author of the seminal hemp treatise “A Renewal of Common Sense”.

He stood less than 5 ft tall but was a giant among men, cruising around in style in a gorgeous jet black 1957 Bentley he lovingly called Josephine. He cheated death more than once with good humor and trickster energy.

He also took on and went to the mat with the IRS, refusing to pay taxes for twenty years and somehow arguing his way through successfully based on deep immersion in constitutional law and incredible luck, culminating in a standoff with tax agents at his home he jiu-jitzued.

So many amazing memories of a true hemp warrior and homie.

Love you brother!
David Bronner
Cosmic Engagement Officer – Dr. Bronner’s
Board Member – Vote Hemp

Fine In The Field – July 2020

We’re All Soil Farmers Now: Actively Mitigating Climate Change With Hemp

As we dance toward triple digits again here in New Mexico today, I’m just in from the hemp field for breakfast, sipping my hemp/ginger shake and watching the usual millennial wildfires from my porch office perch. Ho-hum: another spring, another 30,000 or 100,000 acres torched in my backyard. This year’s blaze has been burning for almost a month now. Hopefully the recently erratic monsoon rains will come on schedule later this month. Sometimes it seems like the clouds are gathering. Cheerleading them hopefully from a hemp-and-vegetable field, one sees how rain dances were invented.

We hemp farmers do more than dance though. My hemp crop and yours is actively mitigating climate change. As long as you cultivate regeneratively and outdoors in your own native soil, with no plastic sheeting or synthetic chemicals, you are part of humanity’s long-shot, bottom-of-the-ninth comeback opportunity.

I speak from experience. It’s hard to overstate the dramatic temperature, moisture and air-clarity difference between inside the late-July canopy of a hemp field in the middle of a wildfire (I’ve cultivated in such a shouldn’t-be-normal situation three times and counting) and the conditions maybe ten feet outside the same field. It’s like two different planets. Or maybe two different futures.

I’m thinking today of the cool, moist Oregon field my colleague Edgar Winters and I grew while surrounded by a few hundred thousand acres of wildfire in 2018. As the seed and flowers matured, we often sat down, smack dab in the middle of the field, just for relief. Embraced by the plants we had planted seven weeks earlier, we could feel the carbon being sequestered in the very loamy consistency of the dank, rich soil where we sat, watching the hundreds of thousands of hand-shaped, contented leaves waving to us from seven feet above. Forever more, we palpably understood the impact regenerative farming around the world can have on humanity’s climate change mitigation project.

I’m feeling it again this year already in my Ranch polyculture garden (we have watermelon, pepper and tomato plant hugging some of our hemp), though the hemp plants are still young. This is victory: when hemp is just another plant in the garden (although guess which of these plants is the only one I had to pay for a $700 permit in order to grow my family superfood?). Again, I sit in moist soil with smoke on the horizon.

This saving humanity, my fellow hemp farmer/entrepreneurs, is an integral component of our industry-leading brand: by supporting the products grown and marketed by independent, farmer-owned hemp enterprises, a customer is helping allow her grandchildren to survive. Just that.

Our off-the-field job is to explain exactly how this is so. Regenerative farming, of any crop, means building healthy soil. For my latest book, I researched metrics on carbon sequestration. A growing body of research suggests that each cubic inch of topsoil we restore of the world’s farmland sequesters up to three billion tons of carbon annually. And hemp’s substantial taproots are absolutely stunning at creating the conditions that allow for the building of topsoil. As Nutiva and RE Botanicals founder John Roulac reminded me, industrial agricultural runoff is the number one polluter of oceans, while regenerative agriculture has the potential to be the leading mode of sequestering atmospheric carbon.

We’re all wise to root for an industry that helps with climate stabilization. If the regenerative farming mode catches on, farmers might even buy us humans a crucial century to get our underlying infrastructural cards in order — the goal being to thrive, rather than panic, as we glide into the post-petroleum future.

It’s hard to beat “saving our grandchildren” as a marketing tool. The real win-win, as we’ve discussed here in an earlier Fine In the Field column, is that regenerative farming wins on performance, the way the peas you pull off your own vines taste sweeter than anything in a market bin. No mass marketed hemp, no matter how pastoral its label, will be able to claim “farmer-owned.” So fear not McCBD in chain drug stores: if the small batch independent regenerative hemp farmer/entrepreneur doesn’t win ‘em on righteousness, she still wins ‘em with a superior product.

Just as they want the finest coffee, craft beer and local bread, millions of folks want the best hemp. Once they understand the value of concepts like bioavailability and organic principles, they won’t want anonymous hemp from flower isolate or fungible grain markets any more than they’d buy their meat at Burger King.

I can attest that regenerative farming is fun, but is it easy, especially for a new farmer? Well, it’s no harder than any farming. Farming, like any job done well, is hard. A lot has to go right over the course of eight months, not least mother nature smiling in a time of climate chaos.The good news is, the sun’s free, and we’ve been given the soil as a bonus gift.

All native soil, I’ve learned care of the wisdom of many colleagues and mentors over the past decade, is composed of an immensely complex microbial neighborhood; one distinct to every ecosystem on the planet – your beneficial microbes, like mycelium, are unique to your farm’s microclimate. That’s a good thing for a lot of reasons – biodiversity and native inputs – these are what our plants want most. Happy plants mean the best hemp products – and unique hemp products are the value-added edge in our top-shelf independent craft hemp marketplace. Think terroir: no hemp will taste or perform exactly like yours just as no two wine vintages are identical. Plus, nurturing native soil microbes is the step that sequesters carbon and saves humanity. In other words, it’s good to have friends in low places.

I, the farmer, get to reap the benefits of robust hemp that’s good friends with the microbes in it soil — already this year’s crop has shrugged off an unseasonable hail barrage here in the Land of Enchantment. This was about a week ago, and when I dashed out at sunrise to the field like a goat kid to stretch, give thanks, and examine the field, everything was predictably irie.

This is why step one for any farmer and farm enterprise is learning how to build their own farm’s soil. Since I’m far from an expert at this, I’m lucky that my goats give tons of manure mixed with organic alfalfa. That’s a breakfast of champions for beneficial microbes. But the first course of action for anyone ready to join the hemp renaissance is to get in the soil: test it, love it, read about it, build it. I suggest keeping good ol’ N, P and K in mind, but also look into the overall organic matter in your soil, with an eye to building the entire beneficial microbial community, especially your mycelium, or fungal community.

In conclusion, you might think you’re a hemp farmer, marketer, or customer. In truth, if survival for the grandkids is the goal, we’re all soil farmers now. And shoppers? Please look at more than price and milligrams of CBD on the label: seek out your region’s farmer-owned products. Make sure your food co-op or grocery store manager knows you’re dedicated to having regional options for regenerative hemp, for vegetables, for toothpaste, for everything. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

For the regenerative farmer/entrepreneur, hemp is not a get-rich-quick scheme. And yet I’m optimistic for us primates’ making the right decisions at this critical time. Yes, we all recognize that it’s the bottom of the ninth for humanity. But I like to recall that when Edgar and I cooled off by sitting in that blessedly damp hemp field during the 2018 wildfires, that was 500,000 permitted U.S. hemp acres ago. We’ll catch corn, soy, cotton and wheat’s 234 million combined annual acres soon enough – the same way the craft beer is slaying mass market beer, gaining a percentage point per year.

Are you in? Every regeneratively grown acre of hemp counts. We’ve got allies from all kinds of species assisting us. For one thing, all mammals have endo-cannabinoid systems. But I have a feeling it goes beyond that – birds famously love hemp seed, of course. This morning the ravens and hawks were circling even closer than usual while I checked the drip line in the field, and we caught a glimpse of the fox family with whom we’re sharing the Funky Butte Ranch bounty this year.

The soundtrack at this time a year in the high desert is native bees, hummingbirds and woodpeckers, punctuated by a cactus wren trill about every seven seconds. It seems like everybody knows hemp is a superfood and the launchpad for humanity’s recovery and revival. I’m hoping that even rabbits who have built their front door right in our hemp field remember to make our hemp a sometimes food, so there’s plenty for everybody.

Indeed the hemp continues to grow, despite the smoky air. Each morning, I sigh the same sigh of relief that every human has for the 10,000 years of farming before supermarkets: we will survive another year. The joy of seeing the first hemp sprouts emerge and bifurcate is the joy of parenthood. As I mentioned in this passage in the book American Hemp Farmer, “Oxytocin is exchanged, as in any parent-child relationship…We are hemp midwives.” Ask any midwife: it’s a pretty joyous profession to be bringing life into the world. This is no less true when your job is nurturing plants and microbes. Life is life and it is good.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and a solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states, and later this year will be offering an online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Vegan Hemp Queso recipe

Vegan Hemp Queso recipe

½ cup raw hemp hearts
1 tbsp. lemon juice
½ tbsp. nutritional yeast
¼ tsp. salt (to taste)
1-2 tbsp. water
½ cup salsa

Note: adjust the heat of the queso by using mild, medium or hot salsa or add diced jalapeños


Put all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. It’s as easy as that! This is a quick and easy dip that is also delicious and nutritious! Makes approximately 1 ½ cups or 4 servings. Serve as a dip with chips or veggies.

Vegan Hemp Queso recipe


Fine In the Field – June 2020

Fine in the Field - a column by author and hemp farmer Doug FineThe first sprouts — keikis, as folks call babies of all species in Hawaii — have joined the multi-species clan here the Funky Butte Ranch. Accordingly, I have heaved that sigh that all farmers have when they’ve taken the second key step toward superfood security for their families (the first is soil building, which by the way also is the best way to mitigate climate change). Before supermarkets, this was a common sigh. People held festivals and burst forth with prayers of gratitude.

My permit arrived nice and early this year here in the desert Southwest, as the moon was waxing right as the regenerative hemp industry is re-born. We’re very close to the finish line, when it comes to cannabis/hemp policy: Hemp is on its way to being treated as a crop as it has been for last 8,000 years. We have a few important steps to go. As we discussed in last month’s Fine In the Field column, step one is changing the federal definition of hemp to one percent THC from its absurd and arbitrary .3% definition that is causing almost 40% of farmer tests to go “hot.” Switzerland, Tasmania and Thailand are already at one percent, and the National Farmer’s Union is advocating for three percent. So one percent is an easy, sensible ask. It’s also imperative: instead of 40% of tests going hot, we’ll likely be below 5%.

Even as things stand today, being official feels so good. Just adds to the patriotism of this food security moment. But today I am in the field, where policy nuances seem so distant. If you’ve read some of my earlier work, like Farewell, My Subaru, you know that, totemically speaking, I used to be more of an animal guy. I’ve been the goat whisperer in my family, who provides the soothing cadence when Natalie Merchant or Bjork’s being feisty on the milk stand (all our goats are named for singers we like even if their voices might have something of a caprine cadence).

But plant intelligence now amazes me every day. Plants are a lot like us, trying to raise their families, drink good water and even dance a bit. And like us, a lot has to go right for a plant to want to produce offspring and come back again. Which is why I feel so especially psyched upon seeing the hemp sprouts come up on the Funky Butte Ranch this year. First off, because my family’s superfood diet looks on its way to being dialed in for another year, heaven willing. But also because these plants are my friends, my kin, part of the extended family that also includes the beneficial local microbes that feed the hemp we eat and encourage its roots to sequester carbon. Which is to say, these plants are saving our lives.

We had to do enough for them (or maybe better to say with them) last season, their genes stored in the seed we harvested last season, for them to continue life another anew this spring. It’s a solid feeling to know that in a mason jar in my cool storage room overwinter lives the coming year’s protein. And that’s before you get into the sanity-maintenance benefits of being outside in a polyculture field, communicating with all kinds of plants and critters, and most of all, breathing, breathing, and then breathing some more, from the cooling oxygen in which the crop is bathing you. The whole thing scored by a hummingbird, woodpecker and cactus symphony.

And let’s not forget the insects: bees, of course, are the new Save the Whales, it’s a good sign when a droning native bee bass-line captures your attention. Then there’s the land-based critters. I took a one-hour time-lapse of a keiki this week, and there were hundreds of insects scooting through the soil in the two-foot-square shot. They ranged in size from giant stink beetle to tiny leaf-hoppers. I’m a fan of diverse life forms in the field.

Moving one magnitude smaller, I’ve become such a fan of mycelium. It’s a ton of fun to gather beneficial fungus and brew it into compost tea for your soil – something I discuss in American Hemp Farmer, and in the new course I’ll be giving with the Acres USA folks this year. The best part of mycelium gathering is that, still in their native habitat, they find their home in your field, these tiny fungal colonies, creating white, beneficial webs in your soil: it’s a pleasure to see.

Here we begin to experience the benefits of conscious soil building. In a phrase, a better crop results. Since I see the hemp that emerges into my family’s diet from regenerative farming, now I’m learning the questions to ask the cultivators and marketers of any product I put into my body. Which reminds me, our kale and arugula have sprouted as well. Looks to be a good tomato year, too.

Since I live and cultivate in a high desert, a word on water and hemp. I just had the pleasurable experience of sinking my fingers two knuckles deep in the Ranch soil three days after planting and two days after watering. Yep – not just still damp but moist. In searing 90 degree conditions. This is another payoff of soil building. Reason #42 I love organic alfalfa and goat poop compost: there is a moisture-retaining layer that originated not fifty yards from the field. The resulting conditions are just right for a native soil nursery: these are the conditions I’d want if I was germinating.

Indeed I learned a lesson about hemp’s lack of post germination thirst last year – perhaps understandably in a parched ecosystem a few years out from a 130,000-acre wildfire. Put simply, like the doting parent that I am, I over-watered. This year, despite midday heat that has my golden retriever dashing from shady spot to shady spot, I’ve been disciplined: I’m drip irrigating for one hour, every other day, and the early sprouts seem to love it. The watering regimen is different for germination and later in the summer during the plant’s flower and seed maturation phase, but we’re blessed here with monsoon rains at that time of year, when I can nearly dry crop.

I still think about and dote on the crop nearly every waking moment like any new parent. I just checked the keikis, issued a brief reminder to the local rabbits to treat the hemp as a sometimes food, and now am back at the ranch house, drinking my morning hemp shake. Next, I’ve got to tackle a bit of that other side of hemp farmer/entrepreneur equation: thinking about the product.

For me, the actual product is easy: I make what I most want to enjoy myself. It’s thinking about packaging (expensive if you want to be regenerative which I do) and marketing (math!) that, I admit, can be a notch less fun for me. Luckily, my new partners are women who have been trusted regional providers for seven years – so our conversations are about keeping packaging, production, and even, we aspire, delivery in regenerative modes as we slowly scale up to what seems a sustainable level over the course of several years. It seems to us that even a company’s growth arc is a decision which has an impact on the future of humanity.

And that’s why if we’re wise, we independent, regenerative hemp farmer/entrepreneurs will make a concerted effort to communicate to customers that, just as fresh-squeezed OJ beats concentrate, a hemp field lovingly cultivated by the farmer/owners of the product they’re buying will likely prove the finest hemp product. This time, my friends, the farmers are in charge. And this is a good thing.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and a solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states, and has taught several hemp classes. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Pennsylvania prepares for subdued second year of hemp growing

Pennsylvania farmers have lowered their expectations as they prepare for a second year of growing hemp.

“Everybody went into this thinking they were going to make a million dollars, and that crashed real quick,” said Lee Ralph, who lives in Robinson Township and owns Full Circle Fields in Venango County.

Ralph said he managed to break even on his hemp crop last year, which puts him in a better position than many farmers after prices plummeted from $40 a pound to $10.

This year he’s being more cautious — planting only five acres instead of last year’s 15.

Planting will begin soon.

Many farmers are reevaluating their relationship with the crop, said Jeff Fowler, an educator with Penn State Extension who works with hemp farmers.

“Some of them have, I won’t say gone under, but they’re not planting hemp this year,” he said. “Some of them are growing, and growing more, and some of them are brand new.”

Despite the concerns, the state Department of Agriculture has issued 415 hemp growing permits this year, and about 200 more applications are pending.

In 2019, the state issued 324 permits.

Last year’s permits were all for farmers. This year’s count includes both farmers and processors, which were not require to get a permit in 2019. About 10% of 2020 applications were from processors, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The department does not yet have a count of how many acres of hemp farmers will plant this year. Last year’s count was about 4,000 acres.

“It was a learning year for a lot of hemp farmers,” Fowler said.

The biggest lesson is that infrastructure needs time to catch up with supply, according to Fowler. Hemp needs extensive processing to be turned into usable products like CBD oil or hemp fiber. Last year, there was too much hemp, and not enough processors. Farmers couldn’t find buyers for their products.

Farmers have learned to find a buyer before planting, Fowler said. Those that have yet to do so are working hard to line up contracts before committing to the crop.

It’s unclear whether there will be a substantial increase in processing capacity this year. The price crash has sent shock waves through the industry.

New Stanton’s Commonwealth Alternative Medicinal Options, which once seemed poised to make Westmoreland County a CBD hub, closed late last year. GenCanna, a major Kentucky hemp processor, filed for bankruptcy in February.

Ralph said he’s already found a buyer for this year’s crop, but the coronavirus pandemic caused more complications. The pandemic and related shutdowns have rocked the economy, and hemp farmers don’t know how that will impact them.

“It’s definitely a crap shoot,” Ralph said. “Who knows what the market is going to be when the coronavirus is all over?”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture program will provide $19 billion in emergency coronavirus aid to farmers, but hemp farmers currently are not eligible to receive that aid, according to legal news site Law360. That could change if the industry can show the pandemic had a significant impact on hemp prices.

The 2018 federal Farm Bill fully legalized hemp for the first time since the 1930s, though some Pennsylvania farmers started growing hemp in 2017 under a limited pilot program.

A recent report by the USDA said the future of hemp is uncertain, but it probably will remain a specialty crop, dominated by a few states, rather than a profitable option for every farmer.

“We are taking a long view and we believe this approach will sustain and grow a robust Pennsylvania hemp industry in the future,” state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers said in a statement. “Interest in 2019 was overwhelming, and we expect a continued high level of interest in this promising crop.”

Fowler said it’s too early to predict whether Pennsylvania will manage to develop a thriving hemp industry, but farmers are ready to give it another shot.

“They are gearing up and ready to go again,” Fowler said.

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Hemp checkoff program established in Montana


Montana will become the first state to establish a checkoff program for hemp. The establishment of a hemp checkoff was completely producer-driven and aims to use 1 percent of commodity revenue to help Montana hemp production remain “cutting edge.”

“Just like any crop, hemp takes investment; particularly in research, but also in marketing and education,” said Ben Thomas, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture.

Thomas explained it was quite the process to get this checkoff program off the ground. The initial push required a petition from Montana growers that had to be submitted to the Montana Department of Agriculture. The petitions were received over a year ago and thus started the program development.

It has been decided that a percentage-based checkoff is really the most equitable. All byproducts of hemp are eligible and the idea is that if a certain hemp commodity markets for less, then those producers will not have to contribute as much.

After the checkoff had been established, the Montana Department of Agriculture sought applications from individuals interested in serving on the committee that would oversee the checkoff and its generated funds.

“The basis of the committee is that the funds are pulled directly out of the pockets of producers, so it is very important the committee be made up of people that contribute to that fund,” Thomas explained.

Committee selection will be based off of a couple different priorities. Aside from it being made up entirely of producers, Thomas said the committee will be representative of the industry in Montana, both from a geographical and market perspective. Growers from all regions of the state who grow hemp for all different purposes were encouraged to apply. The application period closed May 15.

“We are really looking for that broad representation,” he said.

The goal is to have rules drafted soon so growers will be able to contribute to the checkoff fund after the 2020 harvest.

Montana’s hemp industry saw some massive growth early on. In 2018, Montana had 22,000 acres of hemp planted, and by 2019, the acres had more than doubled with some 51,000 acres in production. For many Montana farmers, hemp seemed like a fabulous new crop to add to their operation. However, weather and other logistical growing issues, coupled with developing markets and a lack of processing facilities, have proven to make hemp a more challenging crop to grow than was initially expected.

Looking ahead, Thomas predicts hemp production in Montana will look very different in 2020. It is estimated there will be less growers putting land into production, but Thomas is not concerned by the slight changes Montana’s hemp industry may incur.

“My vision for this crop is a slow, steady, patient and responsible growth of the industry,” he said.

Although growing acres may be reduced in Montana, processing facilities have seen an increase. In fact, as of May 2020, there were over 10 processing facilities in the state, equipped to process CBD oil and the grain side of hemp. These processing facilities offer more value-added opportunities for Montana growers.

Montana’s hemp industry may be new, but it certainly provides some exciting opportunities. Thomas recommends all growers interested in hemp production visit the Montana Department of Agriculture’s website or call the department directly. He went on to explain that success with the crop is best reached if producers are well informed and proceed cautiously into the industry.

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Inside the ‘wild wild west’ of Indiana’s first major hemp harvest

Assembled from parts scrounged from around Mark Boyer’s farm outside Kokomo, the contraption was held together by tape, a set-up a fellow farmer said was “rigged for disaster.”

The bed of a truck rose, slowly spilling grain into an auger that shoveled it up a tube and dumped it into a wooden contrivance, roughly 10 feet tall. Some of the contents filtered into a huge plastic bag. The rest fell onto a shaking, perforated tray, where it either shook off the end, or was sifted into a basin underneath.

It was a very unusual system for cleaning grain, Boyer, a sixth-generation farmer, admits. But then again, there is nothing usual about farming hemp. At least not yet.

Legal changes in the past year at both the federal and state level have opened the door on hemp, marijuana’s non-psychedelic cousin, for the first time in decades. There are numerous crop varieties that can be used for countless products: CBD oil, food grade oil, hemp milk, protein powder, rope, clothing, paper. It’s even used in concrete. So hemp seems destined for an agricultural gold rush, and officials in Indiana and across the country are preparing for an onslaught of interest.

Cash-flow problems: Banks are afraid to back CBD sales. Here’s why.

Still, it’s not all good news: Hemp’s entrance onto the scene raises a slew of questions: How will we grow it? How will we regulate it? How will we establish a market for it?

“We are just approaching the starting line,” said Boyer, a farmer on the forefront of growing hemp in Indiana. “Hemp is in a really awkward place right now, and we have to make a lot of mistakes first before we get this right.”

Some are warning caution.

“Growers need to look at this as a crop with a lot of risk with it,” said Bob Waltz, the state chemist and seed commissioner who is overseeing hemp in Indiana. “That’s the reality and I think there is a lot of promise, but a lot of homework needs to be done if we want to grow it successfully.”

Indiana is the hemp ‘sweet spot’

Farmers have learned a few things about growing hemp already.

It needs to be planted close to the surface – Boyer put his only a quarter-inch down – and during a dry spell, because hemp doesn’t have much “vigor” to push the sprout out of the ground. The wet spring that wreaked havoc on fields across the Midwest delayed Boyer’s planting by almost a month.

It’s also known that Indiana is considered the promised land for hemp: The climate is right, as is the soil.

“If you look at hemp growing-potential,” Waltz said, “Indiana is the sweet spot.”

Hemp actually used to be grown in Indiana. Boyer’s 84-year-old father grew hemp fiber for the war effort during World War II.

But hemp was effectively made illegal in 1937 under the Marihuana Tax Act and then formally made illegal in 1970 by the Controlled Substances Act. Federal law did not differentiate between hemp and other cannabis plants, such as marijuana. In actuality, there is a very real difference: Hemp does not contain more than 0.3% of THC, which is the part of the plant known to get a person high.

Still, hemp remained on the controlled substances list and was regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration until just last year. In December, President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill that removed hemp from the list. In other words, industrial hemp became legal to grow across the U.S.

Several states, including Indiana, were already growing it under the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed research institutions to seek approval from the DEA to grow hemp purely for research.

In Indiana, it was through Purdue University. That was how Boyer got into hemp – he went to one of their field days and left with an idea of his own. He thought someone should plant hemp in a traditional row crop setting and use traditional equipment most farmers have in their sheds to see how it does.

“Then the more I thought about it,” he said, “I figured why not me.”

So during the summer of 2018, Boyer planted about 10 acres on his farm, alongside his corn, sunflowers and canola, as part of a study with Purdue. He was among just a few researchers who planted roughly 15 acres total that year.

But the 2019 numbers, after the changes with the federal farm bill, were a bit different. Nearly 200 people were licensed to plant about 5,300 acres – a growth rate of about 35,000% over last year.

“It was absolutely a huge year, and it shows in the numbers,” said Justin Swanson, a board member of the Indiana Hemp Industries Association and founding member of the Midwest Hemp Council. “We are finally excited to get government out of the way and let farmers do what they do best.”

Still, despite the changes, hemp won’t be grown as freely as corn or soy. It will be one of the most highly regulated crops in the U.S.

According to the farm bill: All hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, all growers must be licensed, and states must set up their own regulatory programs approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Indiana, along with many other states, made quick work of passing its own law during the 2019 legislative session to begin the process of creating its own program.

“There was such a big push a year ago for hemp, but there are all these other moving parts that got left behind,” said Seth Maxwell, an account manager for agribusiness Co-Alliance that has helped Boyer with his crop this year. “Now everything else is playing catch up.”

How far should regulations go?

As part of Indiana’s law, it established an advisory committee to help craft Indiana’s regulatory and licensing program. Boyer and Waltz, as well as several others working in the industry sit on the committee, which has met twice.

Waltz and his office will oversee the program. They are working to purchase software, draft the applications and determine the background check process. Even so, Indiana and other states cannot go into full production until the USDA comes out with its own guidance on hemp, which Swanson said should be happening in the coming weeks. 

He said he hopes the USDA has recommendations on how to test the hemp for THC levels because the current system isn’t working.

This year, for example, a few hundred acres of hemp grown for fiber in Indiana came back “hot” – meaning it tested above the 0.3% THC level. The state is offering growers an option to undergo a remediation process to still be able to use that hemp.

But Swanson said there should be different testing protocols depending on the type of hemp being grown – CBD, grain or fiber. The state also hopes to build out its testing capacity by looking to certify various labs to do the work.

Another topic of interest to both regulators and farmers is acreage, according to Marty Mahan, the president of the Indiana Farmers Union hemp chapter. Officials are considering whether to set a minimum number of acres that farmers must grow to get a license.

Landing on the right number is key. Set it too high, many farmers won’t be able to reach that threshold, Mahan said. Set it too low, some farmers might not plant enough to be economically viable.

Still, Mahan – who planted less than 10 acres of hemp as a test this year – thinks that there should be some exceptions for farmers who want to start small and try it out first.

“Farmers are used to be able to go out and purchase seed and know what to expect when they plant it, but we are a long ways away from that,” Mahan said. “We’ve always preached caution, and this reinforces the need to not jump into things.”

Maxwell, with agribusiness Co-Alliance, said he is worried about too many folks jumping in and overwhelming a non-existent market with too much product – like the “wild wild west,” he described it. Waltz has concerns about that, too.

The seed commissioner said they are discussing if they will require individuals to submit proof of a contract that their hemp has been purchased before being issued a license to grow.

“In one sense, that sounds like a great idea,” Waltz said. “But in another sense, it’s a question of how far should a regulatory agency reach on that type of thing?”

Maxwell said that could be a slippery slope. What they really need is a market.

Hemp market is ‘fluff and bluff’

Stacey and Mark Davidson think hemp will take off in Indiana “like you wouldn’t believe.” And their premonitions aren’t off base: Industry analysts have predicted that the hemp industry could hit more than $20 billion in the next three to five years.

But as of right now, the Crawfordsville farmers, who grew 20 acres of CBD hemp this year, said that “everyone is now running into the same problem. Now that we have it, what do we do with it?”

Many farmers have been harvesting their hemp in recent weeks. Quite a few who grew for fiber this year are struggling to find somewhere for their hemp to land.

Some of the markets that growers thought would be available when they planted have since disappeared, said Phil Brewer, vice president of sales at Co-Alliance who also serves on Indiana’s hemp advisory committee. It’s a “whole lot more fluff and bluff than actual reality right now,” he said. Those farmers are now just hoping to store their crop until a market reappears.

Boyer is slightly better positioned. That’s because he processes the hemp grain himself with a cold press he purchased several years ago to make sunflower and canola oils. Boyer, owner of Healthy Hoosier Oils, now is using the press to make food-grade hemp oil, too.

That is partly what allowed him to up his hemp acreage to 50 this year.

But most farmers don’t have that capacity – they need processors to turn their crop into a product.

People want to be in processing and building out the infrastructure, Waltz said, but “we need a lot more of that, and that takes money on the table.” It takes a large investment to construct buildings and purchase equipment to turn hemp into the various products.

“It’s a gamble to do that and not know what your supply is going to be,” Waltz said. “It’s a bit of the chicken-and-the-egg game that has to be played.”

A strong market for hemp exists overseas, where the crop has been legal for years. Brewer said it will be difficult to compete with something so established.

“Can we create a better product than what they’re getting, and can we grow it, process it and move it to them at a competitive price?” he asked. “We can do it better if we put our minds to it, but we have to prove it.”

A few more risk-takers would help do just that, Maxwell said. He hopes more people will “step up” and “invest in the unknown” to create a market for hemp, the way Boyer has for farming it.

That includes continuing to create new uses for the crop. There are believed to be thousands, and different ones in the works every day.

Boyer, in fact, is working with friend and fellow farmer Nathan Hunt to test using hemp meal – created with the byproduct from Boyer’s pressed hemp seeds – in livestock feed. That use has not yet been approved by the FDA, but last week the two farmers sent three hogs they fed a hemp meal mixture for several months to Purdue for analysis. The results will also be shared with the USDA.

Waltz knows a viable market won’t be created overnight, and when the initial interest wanes “it will look pretty dire.” But he believes those who stick it out will one day benefit from a successful market.

“If we create the right business environment for hemp,” he said, “we have not just the hope but the expectation for this to be a very productive crop.”

Hemp on the horizon

With farmers still in the thick of this year’s harvest, it is unclear how productive Indiana’s 2019 hemp crop will be. Early estimates are that only about 3,000 of the approved 5,000 acres were planted, given the difficulties with the wet spring.

Waltz’s office of the seed commissioner, along with Purdue, are anxiously collecting the data. They plan to use the research from farmers like Boyer and the Davidsons to put together guidelines for others looking to make their foray into hemp.

Once Indiana’s licensing program is in place, which officials hope will be soon after the new year, they are expecting quite the “pulse” of interest, as Waltz described it.

Some predict the number of licenses in 2020 could more than triple. If there are nearly 800 licensed growers planting an average of 50 acres, Waltz postulated, that’s 40,000 acres of hemp – about 35,000 more than this year.

Still, Brewer said, hemp won’t be the end-all-be-all.

No one in the field would recommend betting the farm on it, which officials worry about with the current craze. A lot of rumors are circulating about what farmers could get per acre, Boyer said, that just aren’t realistic.

Most of current interest is in growing hemp for CBD oil, but Swanson said he thinks that’s the short game and is nearing a saturation point. The longevity, he thinks, is in growing hemp for fiber and seed, which are being used in many emerging products.

Another use coming onto the scene is smokeable hemp, which appears much more similar to marijuana but still is below the 0.3% THC and won’t get consumers high. Indiana originally criminalized the possession of smokeable hemp in its 2019 law because of the difficulty in distinguishing it from marijuana. However, a federal judge just last month ordered that Indiana stop enforcing that aspect of its law, ruling that it went against the federal farm bill.

The case is still under review, but Mahan said it could be a “game changer” if that ruling is upheld and smokeable hemp is made legal in Indiana.

Hemp is a game changer in general, Boyer said, adding that it’s the biggest thing to happen to agriculture in Indiana in his lifetime after ignoring this crop for nearly 80 years. He doesn’t want to be seen as a Debbie Downer for preaching caution, but he wants to make sure building this industry is done right.

“We may be a little late to the party,” Boyer said, “but we have the opportunity to show up best dressed.”

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Enthusiasm leads to oversupply of hemp in Colorado

Colorado hempHigh prices, enthusiastic support from local government and business groups, and looser regulations in the wake of the 2018 Farm Bill passage led to the planting of tens of thousands of new acres of hemp over the last few years.

In 2019, it became clear that the result of the additional product resulted in a production oversupply still being felt by the industry today, according to the 2020 Hemp Crop Survey from The Jacobsen Publishing Co., a Boulder-based commodity-pricing reporting agency.

“Pricing for hemp and derivatives was artificially high prior to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and remained so through planting last year,” the survey noted. “… The frenzied pace (of new hemp planting) was driven by public agencies and hemp advocates alike, with very few voices of reason warning about the basic principles of supply and demand. These voices were generally not welcomed at national conferences, it seemed as if hemp could not lose. In July, the perception of oversupply, along with extraordinary inventories of derivatives, caused pricing to plummet.”

Prices dropped from roughly $40 per pound last summer to around $10.

Last year, Colorado had 20,899 planted acres of hemp, according to the survey, which cites data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. That’s good for second-highest in the country behind Montana, which had nearly 45,000 planted acres.

Jacobsen’s current estimate for planted hemp acreage in 2020 is projected to be 157,082.

Of that total, 79.4% of acreage is dedicated to growing hemp used in CBD products. The remaining acreage is used for fiber, grain or other non-CBD cannabinoids such as CBG.

Yields for farms that grow hemp averaged about 1,500 pounds per acre.  “We know that 3,000 pounds per acre is achievable, but few are hitting that mark,” Jaobsen senior hemp industry analyst Chase Hubbard said.

The current oversupply means that there is a “significant volume of biomass that’s still in storage,” which could help keep prices down as older hemp is less valuable than a freshly harvested crop, he said.

Lack of storage infrastructure has resulted in about half of last year’s crop going unharvested in certain hemp-producing regions, he said.

Faced with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, lower prices for CBD distillate and high capital costs to build extraction facilities, companies that make CBD products have recently begun transitioning operations to making hand sanitizer and similar products.

“I think there is some optimism for pricing to grow, but the historical pricing we saw (in the immediate passage of the 2018 Farm Bill) is not something we’re likely to see again,” Hubbard said.

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Virginia Governor signs bill defining industrial hemp extract as food

On April 6, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill that defines “industrial hemp extract” as a food. Senate Bill 918, which was introduced by David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax), establishes (i) requirements for the production of an industrial hemp extract or a food containing an extract and (ii) conditions under which a manufacturer of such extract or food shall be considered an approved source. According to the bill, “food” means any article that is intended for human consumption and introduced into commerce. “Industrial hemp extract” is defined as an extract (i) of a Cannabis sativa plant that has a concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is no greater than that allowed for hemp by federal law (i.e., <0.3% THC) and (ii) that is intended for human consumption.

SB 918 further authorizes the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services to adopt regulations establishing contaminant tolerances, labeling requirements, and batch testing requirements, and it provides that money collected under the bill must be deposited in the Virginia Industrial Hemp Fund. The bill also directs the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry to report on a plan for long-term sustainability of funding for the industrial hemp program by November 1, 2020.

In contrast to SB 918, at the federal level, hemp extracts, like CBD, are not eligible to be used as an ingredient in conventional foods and dietary supplements. On March 5, FDA released its Report to Congress, which discussed the Agency’s developments regarding the regulation of cannabinoid-containing products. Progress toward quickly providing for the lawful use of CBD in dietary supplements and conventional food is not likely, and the report makes it clear that FDA remains concerned about the risks of CBD, which include potential liver injury, interactions with other drugs, male reproductive toxicity, and side effects such as drowsiness.

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Farmers are now able to legally grow hemp in Arizona

PHOENIX (FOX 10) – It is now officially legal for farmers to grow hemp in the state of Arizona.

The Arizona Hemp Program, which launched Saturday, falls under the jurisdiction of the state’s agriculture department. The program allows hemp to be used to manufacture products and allows them to be shipped across state lines.

Farmers will also be eligible to apply for USDA crop insurance.

Summer is the best time to grow the product and many believe Arizona is the best place to grow hemp. One farmer we spoke with says he’s been in the farming industry his entire life, devoting at least three acres to test the waters. J.L. Echeverria has been growing cotton, alfalfa, grains, barley and more. While he won’t be going all in, he’ll start small.

“We’re very excited about this crop since it’s new and the price of seed is significantly higher,” Echeverria said. “So we want to take it slow and ease into it.”

Right now, hemp is a very lucrative industry. Many farmers in the state are heading in the same direction – jumping on board to grow the crop.

“It looks like there’s a lot of potential in the hemp,” Echeverria said. “The numbers that are being talked about right now are significantly greater than this alfalfa and cotton game we’ve been playing forever. It’s exciting to be on the front end of something – kind of like a pioneer – people that came before. I think it’s a crop that’s going to fit well for our weather, water, and soil types.”

Those on board want to remind people that while hemp does come from the cannabis plant, it doesn’t get you high like marijuana. Hemp is a natural anti-inflammatory which reduces anxiety and pain – it’s commonly used to make CBD oils. THC concentration cannot be more than three-tenths of a percent for the hemp to remain legal.

Arizona is among the handful of states joining the lucrative hemp industry. More than 200 people have applied for licenses across the state.

“We think in the first few years out here in Arizona, most hemp will probably be grown for CBD oils,” said Sully Sullivan. “The CBD industry is huge right now – it’s over a $1 billion industry and it’s expected to grow twentyfold to $20 billion by 2020.”

But there is still a taboo about hemp to many because several people don’t know the difference between hemp and marijuana. While they derive from the cannabis plant, hemp will not get you high like marijuana. WHy? Because of the THC levels.

“Hemp is defined as the cannabis plant below 0.3 percent THC – anything above is considered marijuana,” Sullivan said. “Hemp and CBD [are great alternatives] for what where they can receive the healing properties of the plant without having a narcotic effect.

Hemp takes about 90 days to grow.

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