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Investment ‘opportunities’ abound for industrial hemp

One panelist discusses need for efficient hemp harvest equipment.

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.

See, Hemp offers marketing opportunities, challenges

• 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.”

See, Industrial hemp rules in flux, growers must be wary

• 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.”

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