What would you do if you had money to invest in the hemp industry? That’s the question Pete Nelson, president of AgLaunch, asked members of a panel at the Hemp Industry Outlook Session at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.
Here are the answers from the six-panel members, each of whom brings a different perspective on industrial hemp, which has attracted an estimated 18,000 participants since it was authorized in the 2018 farm bill.
• Eric Steenstra, president, Vote Hemp, Washington, D.C.: “Picks and shovels. I think where we are now supplying services and things to support the industry, such as new genetics, that’s what I would do.”
• Anni Self, plant certification administrator, Tennessee Department of Agriculture: “As a regulatory official, I don’t think I can answer that,” she said, drawing a laugh from the audience.
• Frederick Cawthon, president, Tennessee Hemp Industries Association and a farmer in Gibson County: “From my perspective, I would piggy-back off Eric’s comment about picks and shovels. Anyone who’s selling seed and genetics is making money hand over fist. And then your ancillary services; they’re making money.”
• Brian Parr, assistant dean, Hutson School of Agriculture, Murray State University: “I’d say large-scale harvesting and drying. Harvesting equipment is a huge problem. We’ve seen a few things work, but they’re still terribly inefficient. Some of the acres in western Kentucky were silage-chopped and baled with a stationary baler. When you have 700 acres that’s about the only thing that will work. The ones I know of range from $200,000 to $480,000. That piece of it alone puts so much money into the process that it makes 75-cent hemp hard to live with.”
• Samantha Anderson, University of Kentucky Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, McCracken County, Ky.: “As a producer, storage and the production of clones (hemp cutting for transplanting) in greenhouses. Those people who have greenhouses for tobacco production. As a university employee, I would also have to say research. As Eric mentioned, we lost 60 years of research (when it was illegal to grow hemp). There’s a lot of good work being done now, but we still have a lot to learn.”
• Aaron Smith, crop marketing specialist, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture: “As an economist, I probably wouldn’t invest in it right now because I’m tremendously risk-averse. If I had a time machine, where we did see some profitability was in the clone or transplant propagation. Again, I still do think we need research. More dollars need to be spent there. And genetics. If you can control genetics, I think there’s where we see the greatest potential right now.”