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VOL. 37 | NO. 40 | Friday, October 4, 2013
Hemp’s potential impact on Tennessee's farm economy tough to estimate
By John McBryde
Since industrial hemp has been illegal to grow in the United States for the past several decades, it’s hard to quantify its potential economic impact.
According to a December 2012 report entitled “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity” by the Congressional Research Service, precise data are not available on the size of the U.S. market for hemp-based products.
Current industry estimates report U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products “may exceed $300 million per year.”
Most of the raw and processed hemp in the United States is imported from China, while Canada is the largest source for U.S. imports of hemp seed and oilcake.
Farmers in Canada have been legally growing hemp since 1998. Annual acreage there has fluctuated, with the total jumping significantly from 5,927 acres the first year to 35,086 in 1999.
The lowest year for acreage was 2001 with 3,251 acres, and highest was 2006 with 48,060. The estimated gross revenue of hemp seeds grown in Canada is around $34 million a year.
Even if Tennessee were to legalize cultivation – following Kentucky, West Virginia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – it could take some time before farmers realize a profit.
“I think it has potential to be a profitable crop,” says Nate Phillips, assistant professor in the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience at Middle Tennessee State University. “(But) right now all hemp is imported, and farmers would have to compete against that.”
William Benson, assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Drug Division, has doubts about hemp’s impact on the economy. He points to a study done in Kentucky that shows the crop will not have a significant increase in the job market.
“I’ve also heard that many of the products you can make with hemp can be made with other products, probably cheaper,” says Benson, who adds the TBI is against making hemp legal to grow in Tennessee.
“So the question would be – what is the demand for hemp products when you can have those same products from other sources?”
But Colleen Suavé of Murfreesboro, a project manager with a state industrial association and an advocate for legalizing the growing of hemp, believes there are too many myths about the crop.
“It’s been buried for 56 years because of unfortunate misinformation, as well as corporate agendas to demonize it, but it deserves another chance,” says Suavé, who founded the Tennessee Hemp Organization in August.
“With the industrial technology that we have today, industrial hemp could become a national hero in the way of offsetting CO2 while still allowing us to grow and renew town and city infrastructure.”