U.S. Hemp Roundtable firstname.lastname@example.org
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Companies backed by the Chinese government are making Big Ag acquisitions in the U.S.
. He—the mythical American farmer is invariably a man—is in many ways a professional embodiment of values, such as individualism and hard work, that are considered part of the national identity. With their backbreaking work, farmers settled the growing West through the 1862 Homestead Act. It’s not a stretch to say that farmers, riding the wave of manifest destiny, built the United States. Today, they continue to feed it.
But the days when anyone could pick up a pitchfork and become a farmer are long gone. Farmland can cost an average of $4,000 per acre in the United States, and most farms have roughly 1,100 acres. Some of the biggest crops, such as corn and alfalfa, aren’t even grown to feed people. Thanks to globalization, food grown in the Midwest might end up feeding someone half a world away.
On Feb. 11, Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts signed L.B. 176 into law, reversing a 1999 law that prevented meatpackers from owning livestock for more than five days prior to slaughter. Pork processors like Smithfield, which owns a plant employing more than 2,000 in Crete, Nebraska, will soon be able to vertically integrate their operations. Instead of buying hogs from numerous independent farmers, farmers will contract with processors like Smithfield for the privilege of selling their pork.
It’s a big concern for farmers who worry the pork industry will be swallowed up by contract farming, like the chicken industry. This is one area where pork producers don’t want to be “the other white meat.” Chicken “growers” are paid to raise the birds on their land as well as pay for expensive poultry houses, labor, and maintenance. But it’s the major poultry companies who own the chickens—as well as the hatcheries, slaughterhouses, and feed.
That the Nebraska pork industry is poised for takeover by contract farming isn’t that big of a deal in itself. Most other Midwestern states long ago repealed their own packer bans and have seen pork production climb as Nebraska’s slipped. Nebraska was the last holdout. Though China can benefit from making the state an extension of its food supply, Nebraska legislators are courting China as an important trading partner too. As the executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association noted, the state has the competitive advantage of being the Midwest hog producer closest geographically not just to West Coast markets but to the Pacific Rim as well. But while playing with China could be an economic boon to some in the state, the benefits may not translate to individual farmers. It could also damage U.S. agriculture, food security, and the environment as well.
China is in dire need of both food and farms. While the country looks huge on a map, only 11 percent of Chinese land can be farmed. Add that to the huge population, and you have a recipe for food-security disaster. “Food security, the ability to ensure ample and affordable supplies of food for all, is a political headache for leaders in Beijing, who are all too aware that staying in power means keeping rice bowls filled,” Keith Johnson wrote recently in Foreign Policy.
More than 40 percent of China’s existing arable land has been degraded by pollution, acidification, and reduced fertility, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported in 2014. Chinese researchers have estimated a need for a 30-percent increase in rice-harvest productivity to feed the population. China’s Number One Central Document, an annual policy blueprint of sorts, has focused on agriculture, rural development, and farmers 13 times since 2000, according to Xinhua.
As a result, China is investing in the best agricultural technology and best farmland—regardless of where it lies—to keep its people fed. The United States, with six times more arable land per capita, is the perfect contract farmer.
“An acquisition like Syngenta by ChemChina really allows them [China] to have this major foothold in feed production as well,” said Ted Genoways, author of The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food. “Suddenly you’re looking at the Chinese government being one of the largest players in American agriculture.”
The passage of L.B. 176 was not just a happenstance blessing for Smithfield. The company spent $46,222 lobbying Nebraska legislators in the first three quarters of 2015, according to Fortune. Reporter Leah Douglas wrote that in 2015, Smithfield gave more than $12,000 to 19 state senators who were voting on L.B. 176. All but one voted in favor of the bill.
Shaunghui, a private Chinese meat-processing company, purchased Smithfield for 30 percent over its market value. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who was on the committee that reviewed the deal, noted during the hearings, “I firmly believe that economic security is part of our national security and that it should be considered when our government reviews foreign investment into the United States.” Stabenow called the Smithfield purchase “precedent-setting,” as it was the largest purchase of a U.S. company by a Chinese firm. Furthermore, it was the first acquisition of a major American food company by a Chinese business.
During the hearing, both lawmakers and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission presented concerns that the Chinese government was backing the deal. But Smithfield CEO Larry Pope offered assurances that there was no connection between Shaunghui and the Chinese government. The U.S. Treasury Department allowed the purchase to go forward. Yet, just a year later, the Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that the Chinese government did have a connection to Shaunghui. The Communist Party supported the Smithfield purchase with “preferential policy, as well as investment,” Zhang Taixi, the government-appointed president of WH Group (the corporate name Shaunghui adopted in 2014), told CIR.
But the Syngenta deal is not Smithfield 2.0—not exactly. Syngenta is a Swiss company, and in many ways, the merger may not seem all that different from DuPont and Dow’s recently announced coupling. “The big question around Syngenta and ChemChina is that ChemChina isn’t just a Chinese company—it’s a Chinese-government-owned company,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. This is not the merger of two companies but the second-most-powerful nation in the world seeking to put its might behind one corporation. Johnson added that it was unclear whether China could be expected to behave in an “economically predictable fashion.” In other words, any effect a corporate monopoly might have on an industry could be multiplied to unforeseen levels should the Chinese government decide to interfere with the market—which it has a track record of doing.
Multinational companies that have collaborated with Chinese state-owned enterprises have found themselves in enviable business positions in the past, international strategy consultant Thomas Hout wrote in 2014 in the Harvard Business Review. For example, a U.S. corporation that partners with the government may be able “to develop products in China faster than it otherwise could have,” and those businesses on the other side may find themselves similarly held back.
Past mergers between seed companies have allowed them to simplify their total catalog of offerings. Focusing on corn, soybeans, and cotton, the USDA’s Economic Research Service found that new research and development stopped or slowed as the seed industry began to consolidate in the 1990s. “Those companies that survived seed industry consolidation appear to be sponsoring less research relative to the size of their individual markets than when more companies were involved,” agricultural economists Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and David Schimmelpfennig wrote in a 2004 USDA publication. They added, “Fewer companies developing crops and marketing seeds may translate into fewer varieties offered.”
Consolidation of seed varieties is not a new trend. Throughout the history of agriculture, farmers have selected and saved seed varieties that were best adapted to their specific soil and climate conditions, resulting in thousands of variations of the same plant. But the largest seed companies prefer to sell a lot of just a few varieties of seeds to maximize profits. Over time, this one-size-fits-all approach to food has cut down on the types of commercially grown apples, oranges, and many other foods.
Some less popular varieties are lost for good, and seed varieties that were once perfectly adapted for a location may no longer exist. Those who are worried about seed diversity, especially in the face of climate change, worry that the shrinking choice of genetics could have disastrous consequences.
Johnson noted that mergers also reduce competition, causing the prices of seeds to rise. Consolidation was the highest during the 1990s and—after a brief slowdown—continued again into the late aughts, Philip Howard wrote in Sustainability in 2009. Between 2001 and 2010, according to the USDA, the price of genetically engineered corn and soybean seeds rose by 50 percent.
Another possibility is that the Chinese government could fast-track the approval of new genetic traits developed by Syngenta for use in China while allowing those from other countries and companies to languish, Johnson said. The Chinese market is, in some years, an important importer of corn—enough so that U.S. farmers take note of the type of corn China is buying. (In other years, its corn production is high enough that it has been the source of the second-largest corn exports.) Those farmers who grow corn for the export market could find themselves shut out of the Chinese market unless they grow approved varieties of corn. If Syngenta owned the only approved corn for import to China, it would give the company an effective monopoly over any farmer who hoped to export to that market.
Though WB Group is technically an independent company, many members of its board of directors were appointed by the Chinese government. The company also received preferential treatment and financial backing when proceeding with the Smithfield deal. As a result, there are unanswered questions about just how much distance there is between a corporation like WB Group and the Chinese government. If China decided to grant preferential treatment to Smithfield imports, it would be a huge economic coup, as China is the world’s largest consumer of pork. Thanks to L.B. 176, the WB Group–owned Smithfield could now take steps to own the entire production chain for pork production with the least geographic distance between U.S. pork production and the Chinese market.
There are those who dislike the intrusion of agribusiness into the U.S. food system and figure that any problems facing conventional farmers or agrichemical companies as a result are a win. But there are environmental and public health factors to consider as well.
One of the benefits to owning every aspect of production from feed through packaging is that “you can increase production essentially at will,” said Genoways. That production will lead to more barns being built and, in turn, waste coming out of those barns. “You need more feed for those pigs, so you’re raising more row crops and putting more of that waste onto the fields,” he explained. “It becomes a feedback loop.”
He pointed out that “this isn’t theoretical,” offering Iowa’s pork industry as an example. In early 2006, Hormel sued the government, asserting that Iowa’s packer ban—which, like Nebraska’s law, prevented pork processors from owning pork themselves—violated the U.S. Constitution. The company successfully received an injunction preventing the state from enforcing the existing law, allowing Hormel to begin contract farming in Iowa.
Between 2007 and 2012, Iowa had the largest increase in hog and pig sales of any state in the country—a jump of $1.9 billion. The runner-up, Minnesota, saw increases of only $600 million during the same period.
Based on the events in Iowa, Genoways predicts Nebraska will soon experience increases in surface water pollution. The number of polluted Iowan waterways increased 15 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources. That’s not all. Not only do the waste pits used to capture manure from large hog operations produce antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but new research is beginning to show that the pathogens can travel miles away.
Despite economic, environmental, and public health concerns, it looks like there is little political inclination to stop mergers like Syngenta’s or Smithfield’s from happening.
As Genoways said, “We haven’t just allowed vertical integration to come in—we’ve handed over a vertically integrated system to a foreign government.” All we can do now is wait and see what the consequences will be.
Suit Seeks to Defend Hemp Farmers, U.S. Businesses and Consumers from Illegal Attempt to Schedule Non-Psychoactive Hemp Derivatives as ‘Marihuana Extract’
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), the leading non-profit trade association consisting of hundreds of hemp businesses, filed a Petition for Review on January 13, 2017, in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, seeking to block the implementation of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) recently announced Final Rule regarding “Marihuana Extract.” The proposed DEA Final Rule attempts to unlawfully designate hemp-derived non-psychoactive cannabinoids, including cannabidiol, as “marihuana extract,” and append the Controlled Substances Act to add all cannabinoids to its Schedule I. Furthermore, this action by the DEA contravenes clear Congressional intent and legal parameters for the production and consumption of hemp-derived products containing cannabinoids, enacted by Sec. 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill).
To read the full petition, please visit:
The DEA does not have the authority to augment the Controlled Substances Act; that power resides with Congress. Congress has clearly mandated, through the 2014 Farm Bill and the 2016 Omnibus Spending Law that the Controlled Substances Act does not apply to hemp grown in state pilot programs, and that it is a violation of federal law for agencies such as DEA to interfere with these programs. The DEA’s proposed rule regarding cannabinoids thumbs its nose at Congress and threatens to undermine the market for legal hemp products containing cannabinoids, including those produced in the U.S. under state laws that regulate hemp cultivation and processing pursuant to, and in accordance with the federal Farm Bill. These products, such as hemp foods and supplements, fall outside the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and are not subject to regulatory control by the DEA.
“Hemp-derived products containing cannabinoids are an increasingly in-demand category within the hemp market—and U.S. consumers constitute the largest market for hemp products worldwide,” said Colleen Keahey, Executive Director of the Hemp Industries Association. “We are committed to defending the rights of our members, of entrepreneurial hemp farmers, businesses and consumers, who all are acting entirely within the legal framework of the CSA and Farm Bill, including those adversely affected by trying to source American-grown hemp and hemp derivatives to supply this demand. The DEA’s attempt to regulate hemp derived products containing cannabinoids lawfully sourced under the CSA, and farmed and produced under the Farm Bill in states like Kentucky and Colorado, is not only outside the scope of their power, it’s an attempt to rob us of hemp’s economic opportunity.”
The DEA has made previous attempts to interfere with legal hemp products, notably from 2001-2003 when the agency contended that hemp food products such as cereals, hemp seed and hemp oil, are a Schedule I substance due to trace insignificant residues of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. On February 6, 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in response that hemp is not included in Schedule I; that the trace THC in such products is similar to trace opiates in poppy seed bagels, and does not render them controlled substances. The HIA believes this 2004 ruling sets strong legal precedent for the current petition, which asserts that cannabinoids derived from lawful portions and varieties of the Cannabis plant exempted from control under the CSA and through the Farm Bill, may not be regulated as “marihuana” or “marihuana extract” by the DEA.
More recently, in 2014, the DEA interfered with the implementation of state pilot programs for hemp farming, when the agency unlawfully seized 250 lbs. of certified industrial hemp seed imported from Italy. The viable hemp seed had been legally sourced to supply six hemp research projects licensed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and coordinated in conjunction with Kentucky State academic institutions. The seed was quickly released, following the filing of a lawsuit against the DEA on May 14, 2014 by then Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, now U.S. Congressional Representative James Comer.
“Over a decade ago, the Ninth Circuit held that non-psychoactive hemp is not controlled by the CSA,” said Patrick Goggin, co-counsel for the HIA. “The DEA is again attempting to schedule under the CSA cannabinoids and non-psychoactive hemp beyond its authority. We believe the Ninth Circuit will invalidate this rule just like it did in 2004.”
To date, 31 states have passed hemp legislation that allows their farmers to cultivate hemp according to guidelines set forth in the Farm Bill. Per these guidelines, U.S. farmers planted nearly 10,000 acres of hemp in 2016. Farmers and agri-business across the country have invested many millions of dollars in infrastructure to comply with federal law; this retroactive misreading of statute puts the livelihood of these law-abiding companies and individuals at risk.
Recent DEA pronouncements indicate that DEA is threatening to flout prior court rulings, and assert regulatory authority over hemp seed, oil, and products made from hemp seed and oil, which have always been exempt from the Controlled Substances Act. HIA continues to monitor these developments, and will consider further actions to resist DEA’s unlawful attempts to regulate legal hemp products.
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The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) represents the interests of the hemp industry and encourages the research and development of new hemp products. More information about hemp’s many uses and hemp advocacy may be found at www.TheHIA.org.
By Jessica Firger 10/11/15 at 10:05 AM
Above: Western Kentucky University senior Corinn Sprigler helps harvest hemp plants at the WKU Farm in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in September 2014. Hemp potentially could be much more lucrative than tobacco if universities and farmers taking part in the Industrial Hemp Research Program, established by James Comer, Kentucky’s commissioner of agriculture, continue to hone their skills cultivating the crop. Bac To Trong/Daily News/AP
The Shell Farms & Greenhouses is an expansive 1,000-acre property in Garrard County, 37 miles south of Lexington, Kentucky. The five-generation family farm is operated by 31-year-old Giles Shell and his 60-year-old father, Gary. The two are whizzes at making ornamental flowers flourish, and like most farmers in the area, the family has grown tobacco for years.
In late June, the younger Shell stood outside one of six greenhouses on the farm and held up a yellowed tobacco plant with limp rootstock. The Shells know how to save sickly tobacco plants like this one, but they don’t want to anymore. “I’m hoping it’s our last crop,” Shell said.
Along the winding back roads of Central Kentucky’s bluegrass country, horses and cows graze on lush plains. For decades, tobacco helped farmers here keep their families clothed and fed. But that’s changing. Tobacco production facilities have slowly migrated to North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee due to consolidation within the industry, which has resulted in an ever-shrinking demand for the crop in Kentucky. There’s a replacement crop starting to come in, though: The Shell greenhouses that once nurtured thousands of tobacco plants are now home to 3,200 industrial hemp plants.
As demand for tobacco diminishes, the state’s farmers are turning to growing cannabis—but not the kind you smoke. slideshow
It’s been close to 70 years since anyone in Kentucky—or anywhere in the U.S.—attempted to legally cultivate industrial hemp in massive quantities. But today, the Shells and other skilled farmers are taking up the cash crop yet again, under the auspices of the five-year pilot Industrial Hemp Research Program, established by James Comer, Kentucky’s commissioner of agriculture, which vets and licenses farmers in the state.
Shifting gears so dramatically hasn’t been easy. The biggest problem is the learning curve: Hemp isn’t tobacco, which means it’s unlike the crop farmers in the area are most familiar with. A major component of the pilot project has involved figuring out the optimal way to make the plant flourish in a much rainier environment than California or Colorado, where most cannabis is currently grown. Farmers have experimented with a number of techniques: covering the beds to prevent over-watering (as you would, for example, with tomatoes) and growing cuttings in flower pots (as they do with ornamental flowers).
And there’s another undeniable challenge: Industrial hemp is really just a few genetic tweaks away from marijuana and outsiders often don’t know one from the other. “When the stuff really starts to flower it has the same look and smell as marijuana. That’s why we have security” to contend with potential plant thieves, says Shell.
The difference between the two cannabis sativa plants is the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical compound in the plant that’s responsible for causing the high. In order for cannabis to be considered industrial hemp, it must contain THC levels less than 0.3 percent; any more and the plant has officially crossed over into weed territory.
Currently all cannabis sativa—whether grown to ease chronic pain, get stoned or make rope—is a schedule I controlled substance, a result of the Controlled Substances Act passed by Congress in 1970, though state marijuana laws have changed some of the classifications at local levels. This is viewed as unfortunate by marijuana activists, but also by many in the agriculture industry, including Comer. He hopes to single-handedly turn industrial hemp into Kentucky’s No. 1 cash crop—and in the process, breathe new life into family farms that have lost millions of dollars with the fall of the tobacco industry.
Most industrial hemp is grown in China. With the right processing methods, the highly versatile plant can provide several notable revenue streams. Cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound in the plant, can be extracted from the leaves, blossoms and stems for medicinal and nutraceutical purposes. Cannabis oil derived from cold-pressing seeds is a healthful alternative to the oils sitting on most kitchen shelves, and it is already used in a number of cosmetic and beauty products. Other genetic variants of the plant are cultivated to produce fiber that can substitute for cotton, wood and plastic—a more sustainable way to make everyday products ranging from T-shirts to particleboard and even car dashboards.
And then there’s the potential for food. Hemp seed—high in fiber, antioxidants, omega-3s and protein—has a mild, nutty taste akin to flax. With the right marketing it could become the industry’s next superfood. It would also make for nutrient-packed animal feed.
Kentucky has a long, but mostly forgotten, history of hemp farming. The Speed family, intimately close friends of Abraham Lincoln, were hemp farmers in the state, as was Henry Clay, the 19th century statesman. Kentucky led the U.S. industrial hemp business until the end of the Civil War, when production of the crop declined and was generally replaced by tobacco. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 put the kibosh on all production and sales of cannabis, including industrial hemp, but the crop saw a rapid resurgence during World War II. Hemp fiber became essential to produce military necessities such as uniforms and parachutes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its national "Hemp for Victory" program, which provided seeds and draft deferments to farmers. In 1942, farmers planted 36,000 acres of hemp seed. A USDA-funded informational film from that year noted that “hemp grows so luxuriantly in Kentucky that harvesting is sometimes difficult.”
With backing from Senator Rand Paul, Comer’s proposed legislation—Senate Bill 50—passed in 2013. It created a regulatory framework for farmers to legally grow hemp in the state. In addition, Paul and Comer were able to get a provision added to the federal Farm Bill that legalized hemp production in states like Kentucky that had programs set up to grow the crop. The bill was signed by President Obama in 2014.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has backed the efforts of Comer to return hemp to its historical position as one of the Bluegrass State’s cash crops. Its history in Kentucky includes even Abraham Lincoln, whose in-laws grew hemp, as well as Henry Clay, the 19th century statesman. Kentucky led the U.S. industrial hemp business until the end of the Civil War, when production of the crop declined and was replaced by tobacco. Carlos Barria/Reuters
Though state and federal lawmakers support the efforts, Comer says it hasn’t been easy for Kentucky’s agriculture department or any of the farmers in the pilot program. Last year was the first for Kentucky’s pilot program, but it yielded only 33.4 acres of industrial hemp in the state. The farmers were capable of growing much more, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has made it challenging, says Comer. The DEA’s cannabis eradication program provides funding to local law enforcement to form a SWAT team of “cowboys flying around in helicopters.” They have been known to sweep through private farms to confiscate the plants, and have even been known to mistake okra for marijuana.
Despite all this, the project has nearly doubled its hemp production this year, and at least 500 people in the state are now employed at it as a result. Comer says he hopes farmers will soon be able to grow at least 10,000 acres. “We want to be the Silicon Valley for industrial hemp,” he says. The state’s backcountry has already become fertile ground for startups like GenCanna Global, which has partnered with six local farms to grow hemp for CBD.
Matty Mangone-Miranda, GenCanna’s president and chief executive officer, and Chris Stubbs, its chief scientific officer, conducted early work to cultivate low-THC, high-CBD cannabis plants formerly called “hippie’s disappointment”—since it doesn’t cause a high—and now known as Charlotte’s Web. It’s produced by the Realm of Caring Foundation as a dietary supplement under federal law and as medical cannabis for sale in states that allow for its use. The story of Charlotte’s Web first came to public light in 2013, when CNN aired Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary Weed, featuring Charlotte Figi, a 5-year-old with a rare refractory epilepsy disorder known as Dravet syndrome that caused her to have up to 300 seizures per week. The Figis were preparing to sign “do not resuscitate” forms for their daughter when a friend connected them with the founders of the company, and the girl gained nearly complete seizure control once she started ingesting the CBD oil.
After the CNN documentary ran, Realm of Caring couldn’t keep up with the resulting high demand, says Mangone-Miranda. They still have thousands of families on their waiting list. “The lack of supply of oil was a huge problem,” he explains. “For me, the logical solution was that we needed a massive, sustainable and reliable supply.” To solve the problem, GenCanna has invested in Kentucky’s farms with the goal of planting 200,000 plants that are genetically similar to Charlotte’s Web in 2015.
Now, GenCanna has an increasing list of companies looking to purchase CBD oil to develop novel products that have absolutely nothing to do with treating rare seizure disorders or making healthy granola. The company has received proposals for CBD-infused sports drinks, wine, beer, Listerine-type fresh breath strips and transdermal patches.
Over the summer, GenCanna, along with Atalo Holdings—another hemp cooperative—purchased a 147-acre former tobacco seed development and breeding facility in Winchester, Kentucky. Along with storage, processing, formulating and shipping buildings, their new Hemp Research Campus includes an over-8,000-square-foot laboratory with breeding rooms. The two companies hope the Hemp Campus will serve as an incubator for the industry, says Steve Bevan, GenCanna’s chief operating officer. “With the Hemp Campus we think we can bring more and smarter people here,” he says. GenCanna and other companies hope to plant their flags before imminent changes in federal and state cannabis regulations allow Big Pharma to enter the picture. “They’re going to throw money in a big way, so we want to understand as much as possible because we have a belief that this stuff is food.”
There is currently a bill in U.S. Congress that would reclassify hemp from a narcotic to an agricultural crop. If the law were to pass, it would minimize the red tape for established hemp farming programs. For example, says Comer, “we won’t have to send staff to a field to do GPS coordinates and then get that information to the state police and all this bureaucracy.”
Despite the regulations and red tape, industrial hemp has already been a saving grace for some of the farmers in the pilot program. The Halverson family, for example, was preparing to shutter their operation, which primarily grew ornamental plants, until GenCanna approached them. The company offered to pay the rent for their property, cover all expenses upfront—including a refurbishing of the greenhouse—and provide salaries to the family and a staff of more than 20. One condition: They would turn all their energies to cultivating hemp and work with GenCanna to learn how to grow this complicated plant and find a way to breed the best version of the plant that is stronger and more aggressive.
Tobacco farmers only earn the equivalent of about 4 cents per pack of cigarettes. It’s still uncertain how much revenue hemp will bring into Kentucky’s agriculture business but the farming community is hopeful. Jessica Firger for Newsweek
In the beginning, the Halversons were skeptical. The family are Sabbath-keeping Christians, and it was hard to know what their neighbors would think. But by that time the family had run out of money and options other than to close the farm. So they went for it.
At first, they were the subject of the weekly gossip at church. “You get to finishing some choral music, and then the conversation after is ‘Are you guys really growing that stuff?’” says Mikkel Halverson. “We feel that growing hemp is more than just work—it is a way we can help those in need. It is part of a healing ministry.” Now, the Halversons’ 36,000-square-foot greenhouse overflows with thousands of hemp plants.
Halverson knows he could probably make a lot more money if he grew the type of cannabis that gets people high, but his family has decided they will not grow a version of hemp that could potentially be smoked, no matter how skilled they become at farming the crop. “I think God made all of the plants,” he says. ”But we’re going to stick with CBD hemp.”
Last updated: December 04. 2014 11:07AM – 1102 Views
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications from the state’s farmers who would like to participate in an industrial hemp pilot project the beginning of next year.
The application deadline is Jan. 1. Logan County farmers can find and fill out an application at http://www.kyagr.com/hemp.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced earlier in the year that he is creating industrial hemp pilot projects in Kentucky. The pilot projects were made possible by the passage of the United States Farm Bill that was signed into law by the President on Feb. 7.
Commissioner Comer and Attorney General Jack Conway have been in direct communication for a couple of months regarding hemp production in Kentucky, and senior staff in both of their offices are reviewing language for pilot programs that ensure compliance with the parameters outlined in the federal farm bill.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Program is the result of the passage of two separate laws: Kentucky’s Senate Bill 50, passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2013, and the 2014 Federal Farm Bill signed into law Feb. 7, 2014. Senate Bill 50 exempted industrial hemp from the state controlled substances act but also mandated that Kentucky follow all federal rules and regulations with respect to industrial hemp. The Federal Farm Bill allows state departments of agriculture, in states where industrial hemp is legal, to administer industrial hemp pilot programs in conjunction with universities for the purposes of research and development.
Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa and is of the same plant species as marijuana. However, hemp is genetically different and distinguished by its use and chemical makeup. Industrial hemp refers to cannabis varieties that are primarily grown as an agricultural crop. Hemp plants are low in THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s primary psychoactive chemical). THC levels for hemp generally are less than 1 percent. Federal legislation that would exclude hemp from the legal definition of marijuana would set a ceiling of 0.3 percent THC for a cannabis variety to be identified as hemp. Marijuana refers to the flowering tops and leaves of psychoactive cannabis varieties, which are grown for their high content of THC. THC levels for marijuana average about 10 percent but can go much higher.
Some estimate that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products, including: fabrics and textiles, yarns and raw or processed spun fibers, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, composites, animal bedding, foods and beverages, body care products, nutritional supplements, industrial oils, cosmetics, personal care and pharmaceuticals.
An estimated 55,700 metric tons of industrial hemp are produced around the world each year. China, Russia, and South Korea are the leading hemp-producing nations. They account for 70 percent of the world’s industrial hemp supply.
Canada had 38,828 licensed acres of industrial hemp in 2011. Canadian exports of hemp seed and hemp products were estimated at more than $10 million, with most going to the U.S.
Because there is no commercial industrial hemp production in the United States, the U.S. market is largely dependent on imports, both as finished hemp-containing products and as ingredients for use in further processing. More than 30 nations grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not allow industrial hemp production. Current industry estimates report that U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year.
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Farmers have always saved seeds from their harvest to sow the following year. But Monsanto and other big seed companies have changed the rules of the game.
June 20, 2013 |
The following content originally appeared on TruthOut.
There has been mixed news for the agrochemical giant Monsanto recently. On the one hand, there was the surprise announcement on June 1 by company spokesman Brandon Mitchener: "We are no longer working on lobbying for more cultivation in Europe… Currently we do not plan to apply for the approval of new genetically modified crops."
The embattled corporation has decided to stop tilting against the windmill of European resistance to its controversial biotech seeds. Eight EU nations have already prohibited GM (genetically modified) cultivation on their territory and banned the import of genetically modified foods from abroad.
But Monsanto’s prospects in the United States took a very different turn last month when the US Supreme Court ordered Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman to pay Monsanto over $80,000 for planting its GM soybean seeds. Bowman had purchased the seeds from a grain elevator rather than from Monsanto itself, as their corporate contract requires. The seeds had been saved from an earlier crop.
For as long as humans have been growing food, farmers have saved seeds from their harvest to sow the following year. But Monsanto and other big seed companies have changed the rules of the game. They have successfully argued that they spend millions of dollars developing new crop varieties and that these products should be treated as proprietary inventions with full patent protection. Just as one can’t legally reproduce a CD or DVD, farmers are now prohibited from copying the GM seeds that they purchase from companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta.
In one sense, these corporations no longer sell seeds – they lease them, requiring farmers to renew their lease with every subsequent growing season. Monsanto itself compares its GM seeds to rental cars. When you are finished using them, rights revert to the owner of the "intellectual property" contained within the seed.
Some farmers have saved their seeds anyway (called "brown bagging"), in some cases to save money, in others because they don’t like the big companies telling them how to farm. Monsanto has responded with an all-out effort to track down the brown baggers and prosecute them as an example to others who might be tempted to violate its patent. By aggressively enforcing its "no replant policy," Monsanto has initiated a permanent low-grade war against farmers. At the time of this writing, the company had not responded to emailed questions about its seed saving policies.
"I don’t know of [another] company that chooses to sue its own customer base," Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety told Vanity Fair Magazine. " It’s a very bizarre business strategy."
Yet the strategy appears to be working. Over 90 percent of the soybeans, corn, canola and cotton grown in the United States are patented genetically modified organisms (commonly known as GMOs). The soybean variety that Bowman planted has proved popular with farmers because it has been modified to survive multiple sprayings by Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, whose active agent is glyphosate. While Monsanto claims that GMOs increase crop yields, there is little evidence that this is the case. The chemical giant turned seed company also claims that the new technology decreases the need for agrochemicals. Yet 85 percent of all GM crops are bred to be herbicide resistant, which has meant that pesticide use is increasing as a result of the spread of GM crops. What GMOs were designed to do – and indeed accomplish – is create plants that can be grown efficiently in the chemical-intensive large scale monocultures that dominate American agriculture.
Published: January 3, 2013
By Beverly Fortune — email@example.com
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer brought his pro-hemp message to the Lexington Forum on Thursday.
Since taking office in 2011, Comer has held town meetings in all 120 Kentucky counties, inviting local legislators to attend, to promote industrial hemp. In the early 19th century, Kentucky was the nation’s leading hemp producer.
Comer is backing a bill in the General Assembly that would permit industrial hemp to again be cultivated.
Hemp would produce income for farmers and create manufacturing jobs for products using hemp, he said.
Farmers growing hemp would have to be licensed by the state and their fields inspected regularly, Comer said.
The Department of Agriculture, the state’s largest regulatory agency, would oversee cultivation and sales of the crop.
Hemp is a sustainable, annual crop that "is easy and cheap to grow," he said. "It grows well in this climate and requires very little fertilizer or insecticides." The plant grows best in marginal soils found in many Central and Eastern Kentucky counties.
For people, including law enforcement officers, who are concerned that marijuana might be grown in hemp fields and the hemp and marijuana plants confused, Comer said the two look completely different.
Marijuana is a short, bushy plant with lots of leaves; industrial hemp is tall, with a thick stalk and few leaves.
When grown near each other, hemp and marijuana cross-pollinate, and the hemp destroys buds on the marijuana plants, he said. "Industrial hemp is an enemy of marijuana," Comer said. "Law enforcement should be for industrial hemp."
The long-dormant Industrial Hemp Commission, revived under Comer, has contracted with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture to conduct an economic-impact study.
For the crop to be grown successfully, there has to be a market for the fibers, Comer said. "Many products we make from plastic, like car dashboards, armrests, carpet and fabrics, are made from hemp in other countries. Hemp is also used to make paper."
Comer said one major benefit of growing hemp would be the manufacturing jobs created to produce items using hemp fibers, seed and oil.
"The United States is the only industrial country in the world that doesn’t allow industrial hemp to be grown, yet many products Americans buy have hemp as an ingredient," he said. Hemp is legally grown in Canada and China, and throughout Europe.
If the General Assembly approves growing industrial hemp, the federal government would have to lift restrictions before it could be grown. "I want us to be ready when the federal government gives the go-ahead. I’m convinced they’re going to do that," Comer said.
Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.
By Janet Patton — firstname.lastname@example.org
LOUISVILLE — Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said he sees widespread support building in the General Assembly and across the state for legislation pushing industrial hemp.
Comer told the Kentucky Farm Bureau that hemp represents the only potential job-creation effort under discussion in Frankfort.
Afterward, Comer said that the state hemp commission, which he chairs, has received numerous offers to sponsor legislation. The commission meets Friday, and Comer said members will discuss potential legislation and the possibility of a new economic study to evaluate the hemp market.
In a separate interview, state Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said he supports legislation to move Kentucky to the forefront of potential hemp production. Hornback is widely expected to become the next chairman of the Senate agriculture committee. He said that if he is named chairman, he would call Comer’s hemp bill for a vote.
It is unclear what the legislation would encompass; several states have endorsed hemp production, but under federal law, it can’t be grown because it isn’t distinguished from marijuana.
Comer said Thursday that for Kentucky farmers to really benefit, the state also needs to attract processing and manufacturing facilities, something he said has drawn interest from county executives around the state.
Leigh Maynard, chairman of the University of Kentucky agriculture economics department, said gauging how much farmers could benefit is difficult. With record corn prices, farmers might not want to switch to an unproven commodity without an established infrastructure.
Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.