The popularity and potential of hemp farming in Alabama continue to pique producer interest as the results of the inaugural growing season are tabulated.
Alabama’s 2019 hemp crop results are expected later this month from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI), the licensing agency for the state designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Even with the lack of profit data, grower applications for hemp farms in Alabama jumped from 182 last year to 575 for the 2020 crop season, according to records at ADAI. Hemp was authorized by the 2018 farm bill, legalizing production nationwide.
“Despite its infancy, some farmers remain optimistic,” said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Hunter McBrayer. “Being a new crop, one of many obstacles hemp farmers discovered last year was the lack of approved crop protection products to control insects, diseases and weeds.”
Those difficulties were compounded by Alabama’s humidity, high temperatures and excessive rain that delayed planting in some areas of the state, McBrayer said. Drought conditions also forced some farmers to look for supplemental irrigation methods late in the growing season, he said.
“There also was a shortage of certified hemp seed or transplants (typically grown in a greenhouse),” McBrayer said. “Some farmers have found a way to help fill that niche this year by specializing in propagating hemp plants for field production.”
Hemp and marijuana are both cultivars of Cannabis sativa and look nearly identical, but their THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels vary significantly. THC is responsible for psychological effects. Marijuana averages 20% THC, while hemp must have less than 0.3%.
Hemp has higher concentrations of CBD, or cannabidiol, an increasingly popular ingredient in the natural products industry. The green, thin-leaved hemp plant is harvested for oil, which is diluted for therapeutic use. It also can be grown for fiber, which is processed into rope, textiles and other products.
But the most profit potential appears to be CBD. Congress and growers are looking to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for product standards to more clearly define hemp uses as a food or drug product.
Some experts predict farmers could make upward of $100,000 per acre growing hemp. ADAI said Alabama hemp farms range from a few acres to more than 100, with the average around 10-15 acres. Reported costs per acre to plant hemp in Alabama range from $6,000-15,000 per acre.
“Consumer demand for CBD products is driving interest in hemp production,” said ADAI Commissioner Rick Pate. “As we enter the 2020 growing season, there is obviously an increased interest based on the number of grower applications. As with any agriculture commodity, the supply and demand will have an influence on the future. Our job is to efficiently implement this regulatory program and hope all licensed Alabama hemp farmers are successful.”
According to ADAI, seven universities in Alabama have requested permits for research, which could answer questions for growing hemp in the state. Research could include row spacing, nutrient recommendations, ideal planting times and additional uses for the end product.
Visit agi.alabama.gov for more information.