All across America farming communities are struggling, but a new bipartisan bill in Congress may open up a whole set of new prospects to farmers across the United States.
The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 seeks to exempt industrial hemp from the Controlled Substance Act’s definition of marijuana. It was presented by Kentucky Republican Rep. James Comer(R-Ky.) alongside a bipartisan coalition of congressional leaders and agricultural advocates.
In a political environment where most issues are divided straight down the aisle, it is rare to see a bill with such support on either side.
So what is industrial hemp and why is there so much widespread support of the crop? While hemp is a hardy plant from the Cannabis family, it should not to be confused with marijuana. Contrary to what many believe, hemp can’t get you high. It contains less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive chemical THC, very different from marijuana. Because of current U.S. laws, up until now, the majority of industrial hemp has been grown exclusively outside of the country.
The plant offers 11 grams of protein per ounce, contains all 20 amino acids, healthy fats, and has more essential fatty acids than flax or any other nut, seed or oil.
In addition to its qualities as a superfood, hemp can be cultivated for its’ cannabidiol (CBD). Increasingly, research shows the beneficial properties of CBD include being antiemetic, anticonvulsant, antipsychotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumoral/anti-cancer, and anti-depressant. For example, cannabidiol has helped thousands of families treat children with epilepsy and other causes of seizures.
The industrial hemp industry was estimated to be worth nearly $700 million in 2016, mostly imported from Canada and Europe. Hemp is clearly a growing commodity.
Thankfully, states like New York, where our company Southern Tier Hemp is located, are among those leading the way to legalize the crop. In 2014, the U.S. farm bill legalized the growth of hemp for research by state departments of agriculture or higher education institutions. New York passed a state law in December 2015 and released regulations on a pilot program in January 2016. Since then, all 10 permits for the research of industrial hemp have been filled. And in the last few months, Governor Cuomo has loosened regulations around the hemp crop, making it easier than ever for farmers to join the industry.
The seeds have already been laid for the first hemp crops in the state. Last year, hemp was harvested for the first time in New York State. And in the last few weeks, we harvested our first crop at our partner’s farm in Endicott, New York. This is a huge win for farmers in New York State that can greatly benefit from this lucrative crop.
Today, more than half of the states in the country have enacted similar industrial hemp laws, creating more opportunities for farmers.
But, we cannot stop there. Beyond health and nutritional uses, hemp can be used in a wide variety of ways and the demand is growing, from beauty products, to construction materials and textiles. Hemp is also a sustainable material that can be used in replacement of a number of environmentally harmful products, such as plastics.
The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 would allow for further commercialization of industrial hemp countrywide with the ultimate goal of treating hemp like soybeans, corn or wheat. The treatment of hemp as an agricultural commodity ensures widespread, mainstream access to the many hemp-derived products from our local farms.
In addition, it will allow for more responsible production of this product, which has been grown primarily outside of the United States in much less controlled and sanitary conditions than our farmers are known to follow.
We should support the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 to offer struggling farmers across the country the ability to seize this viable opportunity and grow vibrant and prosperous crops that are in high demand.
Nicole Ruvo Falcone is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Southern Tier Hemp, which partners Binghamton University and Nanticoke Gardens. Over the last two decades, she has shepherded numerous brands to market in the highly regulated wine and spirits industry, including 12 years as the U.S. brand director of Marketing & Communications for Dom Pérignon.
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