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Hemp is More Than Just a Flower

We can all agree that hemp fiber is an industry that has barely gotten off the ground.

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Indeed, hemp is more than just a flower … perhaps a better title would be “CBD Isn’t a Synonym for Hemp.” Almost everyone in the industry, especially hemp farmers, think of industrial hemp as a CBD factory: Grow it, extract it.

Want to know why the hemp industry is struggling, the price of hemp biomass is so low, and hemp farmers are scaling back their future plans? The single-minded fixation on CBD extraction has put blinders on the industry and its future. My dark fear is that the industry will wither or at least flounder and never reach its full potential.

Hemp isn’t magic. It should be part of one’s crop rotation. It shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing exercise. Only plant what you can afford to lose. Treat it like your other crops: line up buyers before you start. It won’t save your farm with its magical powers.

Organic matters. The hemp industry was founded by hemp activists. Many of us see hemp as part of our lifestyle. We eat and live organically, and we spend a little more to do so. Organic can be less expensive to grow and fetch higher prices in the market. Pesticides aren’t welcome.

There’s medicine in the roots, too. CBD, CBG, other cannabinoids, terpenes, etc. aren’t the only medicinal compounds in hemp. Hemp roots were used by the Romans and Chinese as a poultice. Instead of plowing them under, farmers should be harvesting them like carrots. I’ve made topical products with hemp roots for 10 years – it’s LeBlanc CNE’s secret sauce. They can be dried and stored for future use, so stop tilling them under.

Add value before cashing out. You’ve grown and harvested 100 acres of hemp. So? A lot of other folks have, too. Average crop, average prices. Instead of selling bales like everyone else, do something that adds value before you sell it. Decorticate and separate the hurd from the bast. They’re destined for different markets, so take that first step and raise your prices. Chip and bag your stems and seek out hempcrete buyers. Chip and press hurd into wood stove pellets, either 100% hemp or a hemp/wood blend.

There are many ways to eat hemp. Dehulled hemp seeds (hemp hearts) and hemp milk are common items in stores across the country. Hemp is an ingredient in bread and cereal. Don’t stop now. There’s cellulose in hemp stems and edible mushrooms (including oyster mushrooms) consume cellulose. Plant-based foods are hot. Trust me when I say, mushrooms are going to be front and center in people’s diet. (Full disclosure: I’m growing oyster mushrooms at home and have started growing them on hemp fiber. Film at 11:00…)

Hempcrete isn’t the only game in town. Biofabrication builds things using biomass. Mycofabrication uses mushroom mycelium to bind fibers together. Oyster mushrooms grow quickly on cellulose-rich biomass like hemp stems. Instead of growing a full cycle and picking the mushrooms, growing just the mycelium results in a solid mass that can be molded into different shapes. Packaging, coffins, insulation, art and a host of other uses come to mind.

Hemp fiber has no expiration date. Whether it’s paper, textiles or hempcrete, we can all agree that hemp fiber is an industry that has barely gotten off the ground. But it’s coming, in a big way. Grow hemp fiber, cut and dry it, and set it aside until the market catches up with you. Keep it dry. Be smart about it. Seek serious buyers, because the first question they’re going to ask is if you can provide a steady supply moving forward. “I have two years of experience growing hemp under my belt. If you need bulk, I can bulk up.”

Think outside the box, daydream long-term, and start pushing hemp into the future we all want to live. No one’s going to do it for us, but we can do it for ourselves … together.

This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of All Magazines.

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