Hemp Is Forever Changing Its Little Corner of the Economy

Once again legal in the U.S., hemp is transforming agriculture and creates new opportunities.

Hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of the cannabis plant, has been around for millennia, with humans using all of the plant — from stalk to seed — to make rope, food, paper, clothing, housing materials, and more. Now, the hemp industry is once again booming, thanks in large part to the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 which made hemp a legal agricultural crop and removed it from the list of the federally illegal controlled substances.

With most of the restrictions on growing and selling industrial hemp removed, hemp-derived products can be transported across state lines for commercial or other purposes. As more states join the hemp industry, the demand for hemp cultivation, sales, consumption, and research is only increasing.

Consumer demand for many hemp-derived products is following the same trend, including the raw, organic hemp flower itself — typically referred to as high-CBD hemp flower and sold in small quantities or as pre-rolled hemp joints — as well as a wide range of CBD products like tinctures, topicals, vape cartridges, and edibles. Biodegradable construction materials and biofuels made from hemp are also being looked into for their sustainability advantages.

Farmers Are Growing Hemp in a Big Way 

Now that hemp is once again a legal substance, the cultivation of this non-demanding, versatile crop is changing U.S. agriculture and creating new opportunities. And farmers are jumping at the chance to grow hemp. According to the advocacy group Vote Hemp, the number of acres the American farmers grew jumped from 9,770 in 2016 to 78,176 acres in 2018.

Vote Hemp also estimated an increase of 455% in the number of acres of hemp planted in 2018 (511,400 acres) vs. 2019. This kind of explosive growth will keep transforming the industry, resulting in more hemp product launches, scientific and economic research, and government regulations to oversee production and consumption.

New Jobs and Fields of Study Are Being Created

The hemp industry growth is also creating new careers in farming, research, sales and marketing, and compliance oversight. According to the research and advocacy group New Frontier Data, the hemp industry grew to $1.1 billion in annual revenue in 2019. It’s projected to get as high as $2.6 billion by 2022. Marijuana-related jobs are also growing, as more states legalize the substance. However, since hemp is legal everywhere unlike marijuana, it’s expected to exceed marijuana in job creation.

According to Leafly, a Seattle-based information website dedicated to the cannabis industry, the cannabis industry currently employs more than 211,000 full-time workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and employment data agencies typically don’t provide cannabis industry statistics since cannabis remains federally illegal. The Leafly report was therefore helpful in compiling the number of direct, full-time jobs in the state-legal cannabis industry. One of the newer jobs that’s expected to grow is compliance specialist, who can help hemp farmers comply with federal and state regulations, like THC content.

New fields of study are being created, too. One example is the introduction of the B.S. in Sustainable Business Management: Hemp Industry and Science at Unity College. The program combines traditional business education with a focus on sustainability, preparing graduates for business development, marketing strategy, logistics, and management jobs in the hemp industry.

Hemp Cultivation More Cost-Effective, Sustainable

Cost-effective and sustainable, hemp is being looked at as an alternative to wood and synthetic building materials. Hemp fiber makes an attractive alternative to wood in flooring and cabinetry in particular, and especially in light of the growing need for market-based solutions to climate change.

The devastating fires of 2020 in California and the Pacific Northwest, one of the most productive areas for the American lumber industry, have led to a 170% increase in lumber prices since April 2020. Hemp is a sustainable, carbon-neutral crop that can be grown and harvested in about 120 days, compared to the 50-100 years it takes for an oak tree to mature. While a competitive price point for hemp fiber hasn’t been achieved yet, it’s only a matter of time, and companies like Kentucky-based Hempwood already have products on the market.

Hemp has been also used to make paper for centuries, including in the U.S. in the Colonial period and up until hemp was made illegal in 1937. With the planet’s supplies diminishing, however, hemp is being considered again as a viable alternative to timber for making paper. Hemp takes a lot less time to mature, is easy to recycle, is durable, and can be produced quickly. As an eco-friendly and sustainable crop, hemp can definitely make a positive impact on global deforestation.

Yet another attractive factor is that hemp production uses less water than some other crops. For example, cotton needs about 50% more water per season than hemp. According to Vote Hemp, hemp requires approximately 12-15 inches of water per each growing season or rainfall equivalent to produce a crop.

Sustainable, eco-friendly, versatile, and durable hemp presents a viable alternative as a renewable source to some of other of the planet’s diminishing resources, like timber. The recent legalization of hemp is causing major industry growth, driving new job opportunities and explosive demand projections in near future.

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